Farmed deer


Deer can suffer from many of the same diseases as cattle such as Tuberculosis, Johne's disease, Foot and Mouth and Bluetongue. Poor farming management can lead to injuries and diseases through inappropriate handling and transportation. Inexperienced deer (such as wild/newly introduced stock) are particularly prone to panic which can result in a rapid rise in body temperature, known as hyperthermia (4).  
Tuberculosis (TB)

This is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis).  Tuberculosis can affect other species including other farm animals and wildlife, along with humans. Animals with suspected TB are usually identified by the tuberculin skin test before they develop clinical signs. Diagnosis is confirmed through post-mortem examination and a bacteriological culture of M. bovis organisms (1).  
Johne’s Disease

Unlike most other livestock species, Johne’s disease is more common in young rather than old deer. It is also transmissible in the womb. It is caused by another species of Mycobacteria, M Avium paratuberculosis. Symptoms include loss of condition, retention of winter coat and, as the disease progresses, diarrhoea. Infected animals need to be isolated and with no effective treatments the disease results in death (1, 4).  
Foot and Mouth

This is an infectious disease caused by a virus, of which there are 7 types. The virus affects cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and deer. The disease is not normally fatal to adult animals but it does cause debilitation and loss of productivity for farmers, such as lameness. The virus causes a fever and the development of blisters, mostly in the mouth and on the feet. Animals contract the disease by either direct contact with an infected animal or contact with foodstuffs which have become contaminated by an infected animal (1).  

This infects domestic and wild ruminants such as sheep, cattle, goats, deer and camelids. It is caused by a virus transmitted by midges. The virus is spread by the movement of infected midges that go on to bite susceptible animals in a new area, or by movements of infected animals that are subsequently bitten by midges. Infected animals experience discomfort, with flu-like symptoms, and swelling and haemorrhaging in and around the mouth and nose. They can also go lame and have difficulty eating (1).


4,612 farmed deer were slaughtered for their meat (venison) in the UK in 2010 (2).

Deer are usually slaughtered between 1-2 years. Farmers will slaughter their deer by shooting them in the field, transporting to a multi-species slaughterhouse/specialist deer slaughterhouse or using a specialist slaughterhouse facility onsite (5). Field slaughter is the most common on farms producing venison for retail (4) and should involve accurate shooting using a suitable rifle/ammunition by a trained marksman (1). Normally, deer are killed with a headshot whilst being fed in the field, as this procedure does not involve any rounding-up, transportation or handling of any kind. These deer are then bled in situ and transported to a nearby slaughterhouse for processing. In some circumstances the slaughterhouse may be on the farm itself (5).



1. Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.

2. Meat Hygiene Service.

3. British Deer Society.

4. Ewbank, R., Kim-Madslien, F. and Hart, C.B. (Editors). 1999. 4th Edition. Management and Welfare of Farm Animals. Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW).

5. Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC).

Last updated March 2011

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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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