Some people don’t care for the taste of venison, complaining that it has a slightly “wild” flavor.  But many others like that flavor, and feel that it adds substantially to meals and dishes like chili where ground deer seems to surpass beef.  And few deny that venison is healthier, being leaner and free of antibiotics and other chemicals fed to beef, pork, chicken, etc.

So, how do you find a meal or two of deer meat?  Either shoot your own during the archery and gun seasons, or buy it from someone who raises whitetails.  Someone like James Hopkins.  James, who lives in Jeromesville, is just one of some 600 Ohio farmers who raises deer to supplement income from his 600-acre farm and fields of corn and soybeans.  He got into the business more or less by accident.

“I had a good friend who came up from Georgia occasionally to hunt,” he said. “You can’t raise deer in Georgia, but you can here, given necessary permits and licenses, and he thought it would be a good money maker.  So, I gave it a try.”  The first thing Hopkins learned is that it takes money to make money.  He purchased a buck and doe fawn from a Holmesville breeder for $500 each, then more does and a breeder buck from Minnesota and Wisconsin.  The does were about $1,000 each and the breeder buck $7,000.  “The bucks can cost a lot more, I was told.  There’s a huge animal close to the town of Trail that cost its owner $500,000.”

Since deer are wonderful jumpers, James’ next step was to build six pens of chain link and wire fence in a four to five acre section very near his house.  The chain fences were 8 feet high, enough to keep most animals inside, though a really serious and athletic buck might still make it over.

He separates out his breeder bucks each fall and removes their antlers, pushing them into a narrow chute for the purpose.  That’s necessary because two in the same enclosure with antlers might fight to the death, and also these tame animals get a little mean when does in heat are around and have been known to attack their owners.  “I carry a piece of pipe when I have to go into an enclosure with antlered bucks during breeding season.” James said.  “I’ve had them snort and stamp their hooves more than once, but one hasn’t jumped me yet.”

The expense, other than initial ones, of raising deer is small.  The 40-50 animals he keeps on hand eat grass mostly in the summer and hay in winter, supplemented by a pellet feed of his own mix made of corn, oats, roasted soybeans, and vitamins and minerals.  The mix measures 18 percent protein in spring when they’re growing antlers, and 15 percent in winter.  Since deer are healthy animals used to living outside, he needs only worm them occasionally, and give them a draught 3-4 times a year for internal and external parasites.  

Now for the serious part – how does he make money off his deer and the two young fawns that the does produce each spring?  Some of the biggest bucks, whitetails with antler spreads of 8 to 12 to up to even 20 points are sold to game preserves.  These, depending or size and antler spread, bring $1500 to $10,000 each.  He’s happy to sell breeding stock too, and some animals are taken into Danville (Ohio) to Young’s Locker Service and Meat Processing, processed into chops, ground venison, ribs, saddles, even venison hot dogs, and sold. 

He sells some meat at his farm house, more five miles down the road at a farmers market, and most at Shaker Square in Cleveland where it’s very well received.  “I sell a little to restaurants too, ” James said, “and I’d like to sell more here.”  A final plan is to eventually sell semen for breeding, which currently goes for about $3,000 a straw.  Is there anything special or more difficult about raising whitetail deer?  “Not really,”  he said.  “They’re a little spookier, and being wild animals, you have to be more cautious, but that’s about it.

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