In West Virginia, deer farms fall under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Natural Resources — not the state Department of Agriculture like other farm animals. Legally, deer in deer farms are still considered wildlife, even if they have been raised in captivity.
Because of the DNR's jurisdiction over deer farms, West Virginia deer farmers are not permitted to purchase deer from out of state, nor can farmers obtain deer from the wild. Deer in deer farms cannot be released into the wild, either.
On top of those restrictions, farmers also can't sell whitetail deer meat, something expressly prohibited by state law (though meat of other "non-traditional" livestock can be sold.)
DNR officials have said in the past that having deer farms under that department's jurisdiction helps prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease, a fatal disease affecting deer that has no cure.
So far, chronic wasting disease has not been found in any deer in captivity in West Virginia, but has been detected in Hampshire, Hardy and Morgan counties as well as Frederick County, Va., and Allegany County, Md.
For the past few years, the West Virginia Deer Farmers Association has been trying to get the state Legislature to move oversight of deer farms to the Department of Agriculture, though without success. Despite raising awareness about the issue through a venison luncheon popular with lawmakers and Capitol staff, introduced bills never gained much traction.
No bill concerning deer farms was introduced in the 2013 session, however. A Barbour County deer farmer who was the major proponent of such legislation, the late John Rose, was killed by a falling tree limb after Hurricane Sandy hit the state.
The money in deer farming in West Virginia is found in the sale of the animals to other deer farms, as well as urine and semen. Clay said urine can go for as much as $25 an ounce, while semen can go into the hundreds and thousands of dollars.
"Hopefully, this will be my retirement," he said.
For many deer farmers, including Clay, an additional goal of raising deer is also to be able to breed larger and larger bucks, which are popular with hunters. The bigger the buck, the higher the price it can be sold.
"That's what I want to do," he said.
Clay is working to spread his interest in deer farming to others. Last year, he had a display about deer farming at a local Tractor Supply store, something he hopes to repeat at least a few times this year.
"I try to impress people into doing it," he said with a laugh.
So far, Clay has had a few people express interest, though no one has committed to starting a farm, yet.
"A few people are interested," he said. "They all want to talk about it."
Clay encourages anyone interested in deer farming to contact him to plan a visit to the farm. He said he will help anyone interested in the practice.
"I really didn't have anybody to help me (nearby)," he said of when he started.
To contact Clay or to schedule a time to go to the farm, visit the Buck Acres Facebook page or email buckac...@aol.com.
Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Mur...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817.