Alternative livestock a fit for small acreage
CNK Riverside Whitetails raises deer at Bath
Tucked away on an acreage near Bath, fences 10-feet tall surround pens where white-tail deer peacefully graze.
A life-long hunter, Chris Kassube said he bought this acreage in 2015 with the plan to raise deer. “I enjoy watching them all year instead of hunting them so I looked into raising them. I built our house and then the seven pens which are each about the size of a football field. The herd now includes 50 animals.”
The first step was contacting the SD Animal Industry Board which provided guidelines for fencing. Once the deer pens were built, the location was inspected and the animals were brought in.
Besides raising deer at CNK Riverside Whitetails, Kassube works for Hefty Seed at the Groton location.
Kassube started out with five bred does, with fawns born in late May 2016. In the fall, he purchased a breeder buck to breed the does. The original breeding stock came from Minnesota and more recently purchased animals came from South Dakota. Later he bought a few more animals with new bloodlines, with the increases in the herd coming from internal breeding.
“We average two fawns per birth,” Kassube said. “We have a few singles, lots of twins, and a few triplets. Feeding more than two babies is too much for most does so we will bottle feed some. Triplets are normally a mix of two of one sex and one of the other. We only bottle feed females as they become tamer. If the males get too friendly, they can become aggressive when they are older.”
He’s built a special rack for the bottles for the fawns as he tries to handle them as little as possible. A concentrated commercial milk replacer for deer is mixed and fed in bottles four times a day. Most of the bottle babies become tame, including Ashley, who is very gentle and will eat out of your hand.
The bucks all have identification, showing the lineage or pedigree. When selling the animals, that information is important. The point score of the antlers on the bucks determines how much the price is for the animal.
Bucks are sold at two and three years of age. Those with a score of over 200 inches are in demand, as those racks are bigger than those in the wild. He sells most to other farms or hunting preserves as breeding stock. He gives no hormones or medications to them to improve their racks. “It comes down to good genetics and a healthy diet. This year, I’ve sold half of them and the other half will go soon. I keep the females as there is not a big market for them.”
As the young bucks mature, Kassube watches the growth of the antlers. There is little to indicate the size of the rack until they are two to three years old, then he can see how good they will be.
One buck this year had an antler score of 306 inches. To load up the animals for transport, he shoots them with a dart. When the animal is completely asleep, he and a couple of guys lift and move the animal to the trailer.
The deer get a grain mixture each day and enjoy eating leaves or weeds. “Because they don’t eat the grass, I mow what grows in the pens.”
Three years ago, Kassube bought an albino doe fawn. She’s doing well and has had two fawns which have been brown. She stays out of the sun during the day and enjoys grazing at dusk and evenings.
While Kassube worried that coyotes might be a problem, that’s not been an issue. The biggest potential predator is stray dogs and curious people causing commotion.
According to the South Dakota Animal industry Board, South Dakota had 42 herds and 2,116 animals under captive nondomestic permits to raise deer or elk as of August 2020. These herds are found throughout the state with herds located in 31 counties. There are approximately: 15 herds in the Northeast part of the state; 10 herds in the East-central part of the state; 12 herds in the Southeast part of the state and seven herds are located in the Western part of the state.
Kassube said the industry is highly regulated. Because of chronic wasting disease, all movement of animals is tracked and recorded so that if any problem is discovered, it can be traced back. Any deer that dies on the farm would be tested for chronic wasting. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal brain disease of deer, elk, and moose caused by an abnormal protein called a prion. The only viable test for detecting the disease is a post-mortem test, which means the animal has to be deceased. Those tests cost $160.
“I still hunt, but I haven’t shot deer in the wild since I started this. Raising them like this makes hunting a little different, that’s for sure.”