As discussed in Parts One and Two, if you want to farm deer well, you will need the appropriate type and amount of pasture and paddocks, and you will need good deer yards and holding facilities.

It’s just as important to have a good understanding of how to manage your deer well and how to keep them in good health.  This is the topic of this third and last article in the series about deer farming.

Ear tagging

  • Ear tagging is a useful way of identifying individuals, and it is important for record-keeping, especially in breeding programmes. 
  • Remember that the ears are very sensitive indeed.
  • To help keep stress and pain to a minimum, make sure the deer’s head is well held and insert the tag with one quick firm clip. 
  • Avoid cartilage ridges and blood vessels.
  • Use strict hygiene to prevent infection.
  • Ear marking (i.e. cutting pieces from the ear pinna) is not recommended because of the pain and risk of infection.

Tuberculosis (Tb) control

  • Bovine tuberculosis (Tb) is an important issue for cattle and deer farmers in New Zealand. 
  • Although the disease isn’t common, its presence on some farms is damaging our ability to trade with other countries.
  • For this reason, there is a compulsory Tb control scheme run by the OSPRI NZ.
  • The aim is to eradicate Tb from cattle and deer.
  • The scheme involves compulsory testing of deer on a regular basis, and stock movement controls.
  • The frequency of testing can be yearly or every few years depending on how much Tb there is in the area. 
  • In some Tb-free areas, testing may not be required.
  • There is also a compulsory ear tag identification programme for deer over 1 month of age that are being moved to another farm.
  • All cattle and deer herds are classified with a “Tb status”, which indicates their Tb history and determines the testing regime for that herd.
  • For more information visit the OSPRI website.


  • On many commercial deer farms, deer are kept for velvet antler production. 
  • Velvet removal requires excellent holding facilities and is a vet-only (or trained and accredited owner) procedure.
  • Because of this, few lifestyle farmers de-velvet their deer.
  • If you are considering velvet antler removal, discuss the pros and cons with your vet. and check MPI’s “Code of Recommendations and Minimum Standards for the Welfare of Deer During the Removal of Antlers” on the website:

Deer health and preventive medicine

Farmed deer are generally relatively healthy, but there are a few diseases to look out for.

Johne’s disease: 

  • Deer with Johne’s disease lose weight steadily, they often develop pasty green diarrhoea and they eventually die after an illness of few weeks (weaners) or a few months (older deer).
  • The disease is always fatal and there is no vaccine registered for use in deer.
  • It can be controlled by management strategies and strategic blood testing and culling, as advised by your vet.


  • Lungworms can be a hazard, particularly in weaners in autumn. 
  • Yearlings and older deer are relatively resistant to lungworm.
  • The signs in deer include loss of appetite, gradual loss of condition, slowed growth rate, rough coat and sudden deaths.  Sometimes there is a soft cough after exercise.  
  • Lungworm disease can be treated by anthelmintics at intervals as advised by a vet.

Copper deficiency

  • Copper deficiency is the most common trace element deficiency in deer.
  • The signs include joint abnormalities and weak bones in young deer with lameness, especially in the stifles and hips; 
  • It can also cause enzootic ataxia (staggeriness and hind limb weakness) in yearlings and older deer. 
  • Your vet will advise on diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

Deer parapoxvirus infection

  • Parapoxvirus causes scabby skin lesions in deer, similar to scabby mouth in lambs.
  • The lesions in deer tend to be on the velvet of stags, on the faces of hinds close to fawning, on the lips and muzzle of young fawns and in stressed or transported animals. 
  • Spread is by deer-to-deer contact, but thistles in paddocks can help spread infection too. 

Facial eczema

  • Facial eczema isn’t common in deer but it can occur in autumn on the North Island.
  • Fallow deer are particularly susceptible. 
  • It causes liver damage that leads to skin swelling and sunburn damage on the relatively hairless parts of the head.


  • In the North Island, ticks can be a problem.
  • They generally don’t harm adult deer, but big numbers of ticks can cause anaemia and even death in deer calves.

Involve your vet

  • It is really important if you want a healthy deer herd to consult your vet to discuss the diseases that might occur and how best to prevent them.
  • It might even be worth working with your vet to draft a deer health programme tailor-made for your situation.

The bottom line

Farming deer is not for the faint-hearted.  For small farms, it is relatively costly in terms of time and effort as well as money.  But those who do it properly say it’s all worthwhile when they look out the window to see their own little herd of beautiful deer grazing contentedly nearby!

Useful references

There is a lot of useful information on deer farming in the Code of Welfare for Deer 2007.  Check it out at:

Another useful site for information is: