Deer farming is a relatively new livestock industry in the United States; as of 2007 there were approximately 8,000 farms nationwide. Farmed deer are used for breeding stock, meat, creating hunting opportunities, and scent collection. However, as deer farming is a young and growing industry, limited information is available about the methods farmers are using to manage insect and plant pests.

Deer Farms and Farmers: Who Are They and Why Study Them?

Emma Weeks, Ph.D.

Emma Weeks, Ph.D.

To ensure that management of deer pests on deer farms is safe, sustainable, and environmentally sound, it would be beneficial to establish education materials and best management practices for deer farmers to use. The first step in this process is to find out what tools and techniques deer farmers currently use to manage insect and plant pests on their properties.

In a new paper published last week in the Journal of Integrated Pest Management, we provide a comprehensive summary of the management of plant and arthropod pests by deer farmers in Florida. We obtained our information by distributing a survey to stakeholders of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Cervidae Health Research Initiative.

Deer Pests: What Are They and What is Used to Control Them?

Deer are affected by a multitude of arthropod pests, with some of the most damaging and concerning to deer farmers including:

  • Culicoides biting midges, which feed on deer blood and can transmit deadly viruses.
  • Mosquitoes, which feed on deer blood and can transmit viruses and deer malaria.
  • Horse and deer flies, which can cause severe nuisance with their painful bites.
  • Ticks, which feed on deer blood and can transmit bacteria that cause diseases in humans.

Deer are negatively impacted by these pests due to bites and blood feeding, which can reduce fitness due to annoyance, damage their hides, and potentially lead to secondary bacterial infections. Direct transmission of pathogens that can kill deer also can occur through these biting insects, particularly by Culicoides. Our survey revealed that deer farmers in Florida also are concerned about stable flies, horn flies, fire ants, and house flies, which all are primarily nuisance pests for livestock, pets, and people.

Most deer farmers (94 percent) used pesticides to control arthropod and plant pests in their facilities. The most-used pesticides for arthropod and plant pest management were permethrin and glyphosate, respectively. Although few farmers, approximately 20 percent, had observed arthropod pests becoming resistant to pesticide applications, greater than 60 percent were concerned about resistance development. So, it was perhaps unsurprising that 72 percent were already utilizing resistance mitigation techniques such as alternating pesticide active ingredients, and 50 percent and 66 percent were using multiple management techniques as part of an integrated pest management program for plant and arthropod pests, respectively. These results suggest that deer farmers are already well informed and would benefit from higher-level educational materials and tools.

Summary and Future Plans

Deer on deer farms, particularly breeding stock, are high-value animals. Deer farmers are concerned not only with protecting them from arthropod pests and associated diseases but also about the impact pesticides may have on their health and well-being. The insect of most concern on deer farms was Culicoides biting midges, as 96 percent of farmers expressed concern about this vector of the hemorrhagic viruses, bluetongue virus, and epizootic hemorrhagic disease virus (EHDV). An EHDV outbreak in 2012 resulted in the death of many animals, with estimated economical losses of approximately $30 million in Florida alone. Consequently, deer farmers are desperate to understand the best way to prevent transmission of these pathogens by Culicoides biting midges while protecting their animals from pesticide toxicity.

We plan to integrate the knowledge obtained from this survey published in the Journal of Integrated Pest Management with pre-existing knowledge on arthropod monitoring and other management options to provide deer farmers the tools to manage pests sustainably into the future.