WITH the price of beef being stagnant, some Canadian ranchers have turned to raising deer. ``This is a diversification of Canadian agriculture,'' says R.R. Hacker, chairman of the department of animal and poultry science at the University of Guelph. ``The deer are robust, hardy, animals well adapted to this climate. They need less care than [cattle].''
Dear meat, or venison, is sold to speciality shops in Canada and the United States. Europe, especially West Germany, buys large quantities. The meat can fetch US$4 to $6 a pound for a whole animal. Beef on the hoof sells for 90 cents a pound, top price.
Canadian ranchers anticipate a rising demand for deer products in Asia. South Korea in particular, is a market for antlers, called velvet. It sells for $83 a pound, according to Professor Hacker. One large animal could produce 20 pounds of velvet, and it grows back every year.
Breeding-stock of red deer, elk, and deer/elk crosses is being imported from as far away as New Zealand. One flight in December, an all cargo DC-8 brought 230 animals from Christchurch, New Zealand. The biggest worry was Canada's weather. The deer were leaving the 80-degree summer of New Zealand to be unloaded 22 hours later in one of the coldest Canadian winters on record, 20 below.
The animals were trucked from the Toronto airport 35 miles straight north to Silver Creek Farm, where they went into quarantine for four months. The animals had already been isolated for 120 days in New Zealand.
The first nights were spent in a barn with huge propane heaters trying to recreate the warmth of New Zealand. The temperature seldom crept above freezing.
``Every animal survived in spite of the travel, the trauma, and the cold,'' said Diana Angus, the Canadian partner in this importing deal.
The animals will be priced from $2,160 for a red deer to $5,800 for a large elk, which is a member of the deer family. Often the two are crossed to take advantage of the elk's larger size.
Breeders are counting on sales of deer products to take off in North America. ``We've made a go of this business in New Zealand. It should even do better here because the big markets of America are so close,'' says Noel Boyd, one of the New Zealand partners.