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Published September 11, 2011, 03:33 PM

Vet loves to show off deer, elk farm

ST. JOSEPH, Ill. — Veterinarian Dr. Clifford F. Shipley enjoys giving tours of his 15-acre deer and elk farm in rural St. Joseph — as long as visitors are nice about it.

By: Tamara Browning, Associated Press

ST. JOSEPH, Ill. — Veterinarian Dr. Clifford F. Shipley enjoys giving tours of his 15-acre deer and elk farm in rural St. Joseph — as long as visitors are nice about it.

With recent visitors to the farm, Shipley approaches the farm animals in a utility vehicle so as not to scare the hoofed creatures. He feeds treats to the deer that gather around.

The farm has 10 elk. Of the deer there are 12 bucks, about 16 does and about 15 fawns. They are known as cervids, hoofed mammals of the family Cervidae.

"They do real well most of the time, but I get people that are — how should I say this? — very loud and do lots of fast movements and yell and scream and stuff, and then they don't particularly like that very well," Shipley says of the farm animals.

Shipley calls the mule deer does (named for their large, mule-like ears) first for their treats.

"Come on, girls. Come on. Hurry up. Come on girls. Don't be lazy," Shipley says. "Molly here is my favorite. I let her eat off about anything she wants."

Then it's the bucks' turn for treats. Among the bucks coming for treats is Albert, who is leucistic — he has reduced pigmentation (essentially, he's a white, white-tailed deer). Born April 29, 2010, Albert is the family pet.

"I did (tuberculosis) testing a year ago, and his mother came back as a reactor, and so I had to kill her to submit tissues for TB," says Shipley, who is assistant director of the Agricultural Animal Care and Use Program at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana.

"TB reactors must be put down and tissues taken to assure that they don't have TB. His mother was negative on those more sensitive and specific tests."

Shipley took Albert through Caesarian section immediately after his mother was euthanized. Albert was born 19 days early and Shipley raised the deer in his house, "so he's a little bit tame," Shipley says.

"Albert's probably going to stay here the rest of his life. Probably," Shipley says.

However, the purpose of Shipley's farm isn't for raising family pets or even animals for a zoo. The farm raises elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer and white white-tailed deer for meat, urine sales (for scents hunters use as covers and attractants), breeding stock and for hunting ranches.

Shipley's wife, Vicki Rowe, initially said that Shipley's hobby of farming cervids needed to pay for itself, he says. Shipley doesn't think Rowe's too concerned about it, though.

"Keeps me out of trouble," he says.

Raised on a farm in Nodaway, Iowa, Shipley, 56, has been working on deer and elk for years as a veterinarian. He and his family, which includes two now-grown children, moved to their current rural location in fall 2000.

The place initially was pure pasture, so the family put in trees, a windbreak and fencing, and did the landscaping.

"With the acreage, I decided I wanted to have some elk because I worked on the Wildlife Prairie Farm's elk and bison herds over at Wildlife Prairie Park," Shipley says.

"I bought some calves from them, elk calves, and started raising elk. That was in 2002. Then in 2005, I got my first white-tailed deer. In 2008, I got my first mule deer."

Shipley, who is board certified in theriogenology (animal reproduction), cares for the animals on his farm before and after work and on weekends. His son, Clinton, 23, does a lot of work with the deer and his daughter, Abriel, 22, and wife help with bottle-feeding if needed.

Typically, the elk eat grass. The deer eat grass and have plots of turnips, chicory and clover to eat, plus they receive complete feed supplement pellets.

Everything is monitored for health, and Shipley has vaccination and deworming programs.

Shipley's deer are all tested for brucellosis (which can cause flu-like symptoms, or lead to more serious problems such as meningitis and chronic fatigue syndrome), and for tuberculosis.

He's on a chronic wasting disease program in which all animals on the farm are inventoried once a year and reported to the state veterinarian's office. CWD affects the brains of deer and elk, and the animals slowly become emaciated, lose control of bodily functions, and eventually die. Any animal over 16 months old that dies or is slaughtered has brain samples and lymph node samples sent to a certified laboratory where tissues are examined for CWD, Shipley says.

"Mine are healthier than wild deer. They get vaccinated and dewormed and cared for. They get a balanced diet. They actually have full-time veterinarian care," Shipley says.

Sometimes care involves looking out for his own safety.

In another few weeks, the 950-pound bull elk named Bonehead will be in rut (a mating period). During the rut, he can become aggressive, so Shipley will saw off Bonehead's antlers above the pedicle for safety. A big bull elk can grow 50 pounds of antler from April to July.

"He's never done anything to me, but I don't want to give him an opportunity," says Shipley, who plans to sell Bonehead to a hunting ranch.

"If I'm in here, he still could take me, but he's probably not going to kill me. If he had his antlers on, I'd probably be toast."

As a deer farmer, Shipley is in good company. He serves as vice president of the Illinois Deer Farmers Association, which has about 125 to 140 members. Illinois has about 400 deer farmers.

"We are one of the smaller states," says Shipley, who adds that Texas has more than 2,000 deer farmers. Pennsylvania has about 1,000 and Ohio has about 900.

Deer farming is a $3.2 billion industry, but "most people don't know about," Shipley says. "It has a real rural economic impact on small farms, feed mills, veterinary services, fence suppliers, feed stores, etc."

Shipley, who likes to hunt white-tailed deer, the most sought-after in North America east of the Rocky Mountains, thinks most deer farmers are hunters.

"They get fascinated with the animal, and then they not only want to hunt them, but they want to raise them and have them," says Shipley, who is on the board of directors for the North American Deer Farmers Association. "Most of the deer farmers I work for are passionate hunters."

Dan Harden, who with his wife, Janine, own Harden's Deer Farm in Athens, hunts deer. The Hardens, who raise white-tailed deer to sell for deer scent, venison and hunting ranches, have been in the business about 17 years. Currently, the farm has about 46 deer.

"I enjoy raising them. We like watching them grow. Started out as a hobby and ended up being a pretty good little business," Dan Harden says.

He doesn't allow tours of his deer farm because some people don't agree with raising deer in a pen.

"The biggest concern of mine is disease. I don't want somebody coming into the farm and bringing disease on their shoes and bringing it in on my herd," Harden says. "I try to keep everything protected that way."

Shipley prefers not to divulge the exact location of his farm because of gawkers. A number of people have walked around the place, thinking it's a zoo.

"I had people drive up one day, and I saw them come up the driveway, and I didn't think much about it. I figured they'd be at the door and knock and whatever," Shipley says.

"Couple minutes went by ... I got up and went to the window. They had parked their car, gotten out and were trying to get into the pens."

Shipley asked them if he could help them. They told him they were just looking at the animals.

"'Well, you just made a big mistake. I'd let you look at the animals if you'd come knock on the door. What's your address?' They looked at me, 'Why?' I go, 'I want to walk around your yard,'" Shipley says.

"They didn't leave quickly."

Shipley gives tours of his private property and calls the farm his hobby.

"I don't mind giving tours at all. Usually, in the evenings are best. I take kids out, and I've got animals they can pet and feed out of their hands. It's wonderful," Shipley says.

Shipley enjoys the feeding and caring for his animals.

"It's probably my sanity therapy," he says.