The Fallow Deer of Lithgow

photo by Pat Ike

September 6: When Eliot and Susie Clarke started breeding fallow deer at Lithgow fifteen years ago, the animal was relatively unknown in the United States. Eliot Clarke remembers, “we began with 50 or 60 animals who then had babies so we had 110.” Among those first animals were two bucks from the celebrated herd at Petworth in Sussex England. Since then the herd has gown to some 200 deer. 

The Clarkes say Josef von Kerckerinck, who had a large herd of fallow deer at his 5,000  acre Lucky Star Ranch near the Canadian border, was their mentor. He not only gave them advice but four one-year-old bucks from Hungary which along with Argentina has some of the best bucks in the world. Fallow deer, who range in color from white to a deep brown, are hardy and tough enough to withstand the coldest of our winters. Their meat is organic, low in cholesterol with only three percent fat. 

1142 photo by Pat Ike

Not surprisingly, the Clarke’s deer were an immediate success both with restaurants and consumers. The business was also profitable. Besides the cost of the breeding stock, the other expenses were mainly for sheds and fencing to contain the herd and keep wild deer and predators out. Managing the herd requires almost no labor beyond the half hour or so a day it takes to feed them. The Clarkes get their hay from Rally Farm and their corn from the Coon Brothers. 

Every February the Clarkes hold a round up – invariably on the coldest day of the winter. The deer receive two tags, one for the TB test and another with the farm name and number. They are also given shots as protection from parasites.  Strict medical rules govern the raising of these animals including testing for TB which is performed by the Department of Agriculture every three years. 

For their first two years the bucks have single spikes rather than antlers, which don’t develop until the animals are three years old. As the summer progresses the antlers, which are flat not unlike those of a moose, become quite large relative to the size of the animals. Just before the rut or breeding season begins, the velvet which has covered their antlers peels off and for several hours hangs around the animals’ necks like a collar. 

1143 photo by Pat Ike

The rut lasts about six weeks – from October until the middle of November. The older animals do most of the breeding. By the end of the season a buck is often so exhausted  that a y0unger one will come along and kill him. In fact fallow deer will sometimes fight to the death during the rut. Some breeders cut off the antlers but the Clarkes prefer to let nature take its course. 

When the Clarkes started raising fallow deer, the demand for the meat was very high as selling white tail deer for meat was prohibited. Susie, dressed warmly in a fur coat, would deliver the animals to New York restaurants, which featured the meat on their menus. When the New Zealand breeders discovered how to get fresh unfrozen meat to this country in just two days. the price dropped from $5.00 lb to only $2.00. 

As a result the Clarkes sell most of their deer as breeding stock. Late in November at the end of the rut, they will sell 12 mature does that should have fawns next spring. In May, after the bucks have lost their antlers and are safe to handle, they will sell four three or four year olds for around $550.00 apiece.

1145 one of Susie Clarke's sculptures - photo by Pat Ike

Then Clarkes go out and collect all the fallen antlers which Susie turns into handsome pieces of sculpture.