People can farm all kinds of animals, including many you wouldn’t expect. From the traditional to the exotic and the borderline bizarre, there is no end to the livestock people will raise.
Classic species like cows, pigs, sheep and chickens to more interesting critters like alpacas, emus and bison. People even farm fish and worms!
But there is one increasingly popular and important type of farming that most folks don’t know about, and that is cervid farming. Just what is cervid farming, exactly?
Cervid farming is the raising of deer, elk, moose and other members of the cervid family for their meat, antlers, hides and velvet. While cervid farming is still a relatively new industry, it is growing rapidly in popularity due to the high demand for these products.
These are animals that everyone knows, but most don’t know are “farmable”. This type of farming is increasingly important around the U.S., and has opened up entirely new economic opportunities in many rural areas.
You can learn a lot more about cervid farming below.
What’s a Cervid?
Cervids are a family of hoofed, ruminant mammals that includes:
The word cervid comes from the Latin word for deer, and these animals are characterized by their long necks, antlers, and slender legs.
While cervids are widespread and found in most parts of the world, they are most abundant in North America. In fact, there are more than 30 species of cervids in the United States alone!
These animals play an important role in the ecosystem, and their meat is a popular choice for hunters and environmentalists alike.
What is Cervid Farming, Exactly?
Cervid farming is exactly what you’d think, now that you know what a cervid is. It’s the farming of deer, elk, and other members of the cervid family as livestock, for a variety of purposes.
This industry is still in its infancy, but it’s growing rapidly due to the high demand for cervid products.
What Cervid Species are Farmed?
Many animals classified as cervids are farmed, though depending on laws and the region of the globe not all are farmed everywhere.
Still, you might be surprised to learn what animals are imported to farms far from their usual habitat! Commonly farmed cervid species include:
- Deer– Red deer, sika deer, axis deer, fallow deer, and reindeer (caribou) are all popular choices for farmers.
- Moose– Moose are the largest member of the cervid family, and their meat is prized by many as a delicacy. These large and poweful animals are difficult to keep, however.
- Elk– Elk are farmed mostly for their meat, which is similar to beef in taste and texture compared to deer meat, and also for their hides and antlers.
What are Cervids Farmed For?
Cervids can be raised for a variety of purposes. For example, their meat highly nutritious, tasty, and is considered to be a delicacy in some cultures.
Antlers are used in traditional crafts and tool making, but also for decoration. Considering most species shed their antlers periodically these are a great renewable and cruelty-free resource.
Antlers are also popular in Chinese medicine. Cervid hides can be used to make high-quality leather goods.
The animals themselves are also valuable, both as breeding stock or subjects for study, or used by various environmental and wildlife agencies as stock for replenishing wild populations when raised in specialized conditions.
Some farmers raise captive cervids in order to produce products for hunters of wild members of the species.
This is a common practice with deer, as the estrus that females produce is a valuable lure when hunting males, and their antlers can be made into decoys and calls.
Why Has Cervid Farming Started?
Cervid farming is on the rise as a direct result of demand for their products and, in some areas, as a result to economic pressure stemming from a crowded market with other livestock.
As a result, there is a growing interest in farmed cervids, which has led to an increase in the number of cervid farms around the world.
This, in turn, paves the way for more farmers of these animals since success often invites imitators and with imitators comes competition.
Where is Cervid Farming Most Popular?
By sheer population, the United States holds the crown on cervid farms, with millions of animals spread across more than 4,000 farms.
Other major players in the cervid farming business include the New Zealand and Australia.
What Advantages Do Cervids Have Over Other Livestock?
When it comes to livestock, there is a lot to consider. Farmers must think about many factors to ensure a return on their investment: the size and weight of the animals, their reproductive rates, and the amount of money their products will bring in at market.
In recent years, however, an increasing number of farmers have been turning to cervids as an alternative to traditional livestock and that means many are sharpening their pencils and looking for hard advantages.
So what advantages do these creatures have over other animals?
For one thing, compared to other large livestock cervids have a high reproductive rate, meaning that farmers can quickly build up their herds.
Many cervids are also less susceptible to disease since they have not suffered from generations of inbreeding.
This is due to their strong immune systems and their ability to shed viruses before they have a chance to take hold.
Cervids, like many animals, also produce renewable products, ones you don’t need to slaughter the animal for.
This includes things like urine and estrus (again, used for hunting products) and antlers in some species.
And finally, in some areas the uniqueness of cultural importance of cervid products means that their products will fetch reliably high prices and better returns compared to more traditional species of livestock.
What are Some Challenges Associated with Raising Cervids?
It isn’t all good news when it comes to cervids, however. These animals represent challenges as a whole and also individual species all have their own quirks and flaws.
Perhaps the most standout challenge considering cervids is that they tend to be far more tightly regulated compared to traditional livestock.
The very fact that these animals are not as domesticated as, say, cattle or pigs, means that there are often more rules and regulations surrounding their care, breeding and slaughter.
In some cases this can be a serious challenge for farmers who want to get into the cervid business and in other places it is simply impossible owing to odious local, state or federal laws.
Another thing to consider is that many cervids are simply too large or too aggressive to be kept in captivity and this can make raising them a real challenge.
Though herbivores and more amenable to human contact when farm-raised from birth, these animals have powerful legs and (usually) impressive antlers.
When they feel threatened they are not afraid to use them! This means that farmers need to take extra care when handling or working around their cervid herds.
Moose and elk are two species know for their immense size and antlers to match.
Smaller species, though marginally less dangerous, tend to be more nimble. American whitetail deer are accomplished jumpers, and building fences tall enough to contain them is going to be quite a job.
Another factor to consider is that there is simply not as much institutional support for cervids as there is any other typical livestock species.
This is simply because they are not as common, meaning that there is less information available to farmers who want to get into the business.
This goes for veterinary knowledge to products, feed and more. Even finding definitive best practices for housing or breeding is a challenge.
This can make getting started a real obstacle and it also means that there are fewer experts to turn to when things go wrong.
Lastly, even though these animals are common enough in the wild in most places, purchasing them for domestic use remains quite expensive.
This is due to their relative rarity as livestock and also, in many cases, the transportation costs associated with getting them to your farm.
This also means that replacement animals when losses are encountered will be all the more painful.
Is Small Scale Cervid Farming Viable?
Yes, it can be. But it really depends on a variety of factors. The most important being the kinds of cervids you want to raise, your location, what regulations are in place and the market for cervid products in your area.
That said, if you have the land, the resources and the stomach for it, raising cervids can be a rewarding experience both personally and financially.
These animals offer a unique set of benefits compared to other livestock and, in many cases, can command premium prices for their products.
Just be sure to do your market research first and understand that you’ll be getting into a venture without much in the way of support. You’ll be something of a trail blazer.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.
Find out more about the team here.