The deer raised by the Rigby family are accustomed to being around people.
 (The Commercial Review/Allie Kirkman)
The deer raised by the Rigby family are accustomed to being around people. (The Commercial Review/Allie Kirkman)
Deer and elk farming has seen a rapid growth nationally and in Indiana, according to the Indiana Deer and Elk Farming Association. Jay County is just one rural area of the state that is home to a number of such farms.

There are two whitetail deer farms in Portland and one located in Bryant, in addition to the J and J Elk Farm in Bryant.

Many of these farms produce deer and elk for breeding stock, hides, and processed meat products, as well as hunting preserves, like the Big Time Whitetails farm in Portland.

Josh Rigby, owner of Big Time Whitetails, is fairly new to the deer farming community as his family just started raising the animals in early April. Currently, the farm is home to 10 deer.

“We raise shooters at our farm, which basically means we raise the bucks to sell to high fence hunting ranches,” Rigby said. “It was just something my wife and I talked about doing for a few years. We thought it would be a lot of fun and our kids absolutely love it.

Raising deer is a time consuming job. Each day the family gives the animals food and water in addition to spending extra time with each deer by giving them treats such as apples, marshmallows and acorns to try to help tame them.

“Deer are very jumpy and the more tame they are, the more calm they are,” Rigby said. “This also helps reduce injuries and death, related to them crashing into the fence."

Because deer are “very finicky” and it takes them time to adjust to changes, the family also monitors and checks for signs of illness or injury daily.

Even though the family is just getting started with selling the deer, the economic footprint of deer and elk farming has the potential to be very significant for the family and overall community.

The Indiana deer and elk farming industry had a total economic impact of $49 million in 2010 as well as a labor income of over $16 million to families involved in the industry, according to Purdue University’s 2012 Agricultural Economic Report.

To Rigby it’s not all about the money though. He said his wife, Becki Rigby, and their three daughters have enjoyed spending a lot of their time on the farm with the deer, watching the animals as they grow.

“We have some of our does so tame they can be hand fed and my kids love that,” he said. “I really enjoyed watching the daily growth change of our buck’s antlers all summer. The spring was fun when our does gave birth. Walking the pens to see how many fawns we got and what they were.”

While the farm has given the family a chance to educate community members about deer farming, Rigby said there are some misconceptions about the industry.

“Deer farming so far has been fun but it has had some very stressful moments also,” he said. “A lot of people think that deer farms are the cause of certain deer diseases that have been found in the wild herd and they don't realize that the farm deer are disease tested quite regularly.”

In fact, The Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH) has strict guidelines that farmers must follow to maintain these farms. BOAH registers and inspects all deer, elk, moose and reindeer farms in the state, regardless if the facility is specifically for hobby, breeding or hunting.

The Rigby family hopes to expand the farm in the next couple of years, but for now they will continue to enjoy watching and raising the young deer throughout the season with their daughters by their side.