Farmed deer

In this fact sheet: Farmed deer production & welfare, Disease, SlaughterReferences

In 2003, there were around 300 farms with deer in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland farming approximately 30,000 deer.   In England about 77% of these are Red and 23% Fallow, in Scotland virtually all are Red (1).  In 2010, 4,612 farmed deer were slaughtered for their meat (venison) in the UK (2). 

Farmed deer production & welfare  

There are six species of deer living in Great Britain with only the red deer and roe deer being truly native to this country (3). Wild red deer evolved as forest-dwellers inhabiting open woodlands and forest margins (4). Farmed deer are considered livestock and as such all general legislation to protect their health and welfare must be complied with (1). UK producers mainly farm red deer (Cervus elaphus) although some use fallow deer (Dama dama). They can live for up to 25 years.  

Red deer are deemed a more attractive livestock species as they have a long reproductive life (over 15 years), produce low-fat meat and have adaptability to a range of nutritional environments. The type of production system depends on the land resources available, e.g. hill farmers produce weaned deer calves that they sell onto upland/lowland farms for further feeding/breeding. Shelter should be provided as deer are not well insulated. Some deer may be housed during winter or even continuously housed. When deer are continuously housed they are required to be kept in small groups of 10-15. Mature stags (3 yrs plus) in antler must be penned individually. Farmed deer receive forage and concentrated food (1).    

For most of the year deer form single-sex groups, only coming together during the mating (rutting) season. Adult females (hinds) form family groups, they consist of related adult hinds (mothers, aunts, cousins) and their offspring from the current and previous years, including males (stags) of up to 3 years old (4). Antlers play an important part in the life of the male deer being used as weapons to help gain access to females and protect their harems (groups of females) from other males. Antlers are not permanent like horns, and are lost each year. Antlers on adults are usually removed on safety grounds (1).   Stags reach sexual maturity at 16 months old. Mating normally occurs naturally in September during the rutting/breeding season. The gestation period is around 8-9 months and shortly before calving, hinds move away from the herd to give birth in isolation in May/June. Normally only a single calf is born and these are usually weaned. Deer calves should receive colostrums, this is the first milk that dams (mothers) produce, and contains essential antibodies, vitamins and minerals. Calves should also be suckled before weaning. Calves may be artificially weaned, during their first 5-8 weeks of life, through feeding sheep/goat milk or milk substitute (1).

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The Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom Limited, Parkdale, Dunham Road, Altrincham WA14 4QG
Registered Charity No. 259358, Registered Company No. 959115 (England and Wales)

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