Best Management Practices:
For Recovering Escaped Or Released Farmed Deer Or Elk
Statistic Canada's publication Alternative Livestock on Canadian
Farms estimates that in 2001, there were 100 elk farms, 234 deer
farms, 5,902 elk and 14,464 deer in Ontario. Not all of these operations
are farms. A substantial number of non-farm operations, such as
zoos, animal exhibits, petting zoos and private animal collectors,
also keep deer and elk.
Cervids currently raised in Ontario include elk, red deer, elk-red
deer hybrids, white-tailed deer, fallow deer, sika deer, mule deer
and reindeer. For practical purposes, the term "deer"
is used in this Factsheet to refer to all species of Cervidae farmed
It is obviously in the farmers' best interest to protect their
investment by ensuring their deer remain on the farm premises. Escaped
animals may endanger the public, private or public property, their
own wellbeing and native wildlife.
Despite the best-possible management practices and proper fencing
and handling facilities, there is always the risk of deer escaping
from farm premises. The purpose of this Factsheet is to provide
deer farmers with some practical suggestions for recovering the
All deer owners - farmers and non-farmers - have legislative responsibilities
for reporting escapes and releases and also for recovering their
deer, under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, which is administered
by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR). These responsibilities
are outlined in Recovery Protocol for Escaped or Released Farmed
Deer and Elk, produced by the OMNR, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture,
Food and Rural Affairs, the Ontario Deer and Elk Farmers Association
and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Although, in many instances, escaped deer will eventually return,
following a recovery plan for escaped deer that has been prepared
ahead of time should maximize the chances of a successful and timely
Identify appropriate "recovery paddock(s)" along perimeter
fences. The more recovery paddocks there are, the better the chances
of recovering escaped deer. Open the gates or cut openings in the
perimeter fence of the recovery paddocks to provide the deer with
easily accessed points of entry. More than one opening per paddock
may increase the chances of the escaped deer entering, should it
(they) return, although this also provides the animal(s) with multiple
Figures 1 through 9, on the following pages, show a progression
of recovery paddock designs.
Best Management Practices to Include in a Recovery Plan
To increase the chances of recovering escaped deer, implement the
following management practices in your plan:
Recovery Paddock Designs
Figure 1: A gate or section of cut fence swung inwards as much
as possible will allow deer to easily enter the paddock from either
The gate or cut section of fence should be angled towards the
inside of the paddock(s). The wider the openings, the more likely
the deer will enter the recovery paddocks.
Figure 2: If deer approach the opening too quickly, the animals
may flow right past the opening, especially if it is too narrow
or the gate is not swung open enough.
Figure 3: If the opening or gate is located too close to a corner
where two perimeter fences meet, the animals may not turn towards
the gate or opening quickly enough, as they round the corner.
To avoid this, locate the opening towards the centre of the perimeter
fence, away from the corners.
Figure 4: Consider building temporary, portable wing fences made
of wire, snow fence or burlap on the outside of the perimeter
fence, to funnel the deer into recovery paddocks on their return.
Since deer tend to follow fence lines, a gate or wing fence opened
outwards may help to funnel returning deer into the paddock, if
they are moving towards the open gate in the right direction.
Figure 5: Keep in mind that a gate or wing fence angled outwards
may actually impede the recovery process if the deer approach
the opening from the wrong direction, as they may flow right past
Figure 6: To maximize recovery efforts, consider erecting a V-shaped
wing fence to channel the deer into the recovery paddock. The only
drawback to this set-up is that the deer will not be able to access
the paddock if they are moving directly towards the point of the
Figure 7: To allow deer approaching the opening at or about a 90°
angle to access the paddock, leave an opening between the two wing
fences at or near the perimeter fence.
Figure 8: If wing fences do not extend far enough into the paddock,
the deer may enter along one wing fence, and immediately exit out
along the other wing fence.
Figure 9: To avoid the problem noted in Figure 8, extend the wing
fence(s) well inside the opening of the perimeter fence.
- Minimize the number of people (especially strangers) involved
in recovery efforts, to reduce the chances of spooking and subsequently
scattering the animals. A round-up is not an effective means of
- Ensure that anyone helping in the recovery efforts wear normal
farm clothes that the escaped animals are used to.
- Inform neighbours about the loose animals and ask them to contact
you immediately should they sight the animal(s). Depending on
the circumstances, it may also be advisable to contact:
- Ministry of Transportation, local township or municipality
- where there are traffic concerns
- police - where there are serious traffic and public safety
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency
- farm veterinarian - in case the animals are injured or
- insurance agent
- Keep your dog(s) inside and ask your neighbours to do the same.
- Consider the use of tranquilizers and dart guns where there
are only a few deer out. In larger groups of deer, the dart guns
may only serve to scatter the non-tranquilized deer. Prescription
drugs such as tranquilizers, analgesics or sedatives must be obtained
through a veterinarian and will only be provided where there is
an established "vet-client-patient relationship." Persons
should be knowledgeable, trained and experienced in the use of
- Do not use oral tranquilizers via feed, as it is difficult
to restrict consumption specifically to the target animals. This
could pose risks to humans, pets, other livestock and wildlife.
- Under certain circumstances where recovery efforts have been
unsuccessful or where there are higher risks associated with the
escape, it may be necessary to harvest the animal(s). All individuals
involved in such controlled culls should be trained and experienced
in the use of firearms.
The aforementioned tips may help in the successful recovery of
escaped deer; however, many escapes can be avoided by implementing
the following preventive measures, which are described in more detail
in OMAFRA Factsheet 97-027, Fencing for Deer and Elk, by P.E. Martin
and R. Wright:
- Use fencing specifically designed for deer.
- Fence off ditches, creeks and river. Avoid fencing over watercourses,
as ice jams associated with spring thaws can destroy even the
best constructed fences.
- Incorporate external gates in all paddocks abutting the perimeter
fence to facilitate recovery.
- Ensure all external gates are locked at all times.
- Locate handling facilities inside the perimeter fence, so that
in the event of an escape, the animal will remain within the perimeter
- Incorporate a pass-through with double gates at the main entry
to allow easy, yet secure, access for trucks, tractors and other
farm equipment. When vehicles are entering or leaving the farm,
one of the two gates should always be secured.
- Inspect fences regularly to block holes, repair and maintain
fences as required and remove broken or unhealthy trees or branches
to prevent them from falling on the fence.
- Use electric wire close to the ground on the outside of the
perimeter fence to discourage predators from digging under the
- Remove excess snow build-up along all perimeter fences.