Salt Fork River Ranch January 2020

St. Joseph, Illinois is a little town that sits just 20 miles east of Champaign-Urbana, home to the University of Illinois. While St. Jo may be a little town, BIG bucks are growing just to the south. On the banks of the Salt Fork River sits a deer farm encircled by trees. This is Salt Fork River Ranch.

Salt Fork River Ranch was started in 2002 by one of the current experts in cervid health, Dr. Clifford Shipley. Dr. Shipley, or Doc to those that know him, is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine. He served as a faculty member at the University of Illinois for right around 20 years and is boarded in theriogenology, animal reproduction. It was a time of great growth in the cervid industry when Salt Fork was started. Doc was fascinated with deer since they are like no other group of species out there and he had previously worked with them in his veterinary role. He also started a herd for the same reason as anyone else, to make money.

Dr. Shipley keeps the ranch in the family with wife Vickie and son Clint taking ownership of the deer in many ways. They are all together when it comes time to breed deer, vaccinate, or do chores. The deer have brought about new challenges and successes as a family. The Shipleys aren’t the only family that has changed over time at the ranch, the family of cervid species has been changing. Raising whitetails has been the bread and butter for the Shipley family. Their current herd size is about 20-30 does, including Magda who is 3 legged. There are a few bucks remaining, but now they also have a herd of mule deer that has shown success. Their mule deer herd contains a few does and King the buck. There are even a couple hybrid animals.  Elk were also once established at Salt Fork, but those big, beautiful animals no longer call it home.

Salt Fork River Ranch isn’t just a facility that breeds quality animals, it is a place of science and learning. Due to his connections to the University, Doc’s deer have been the subjects of many studies and published scientific papers. Students from the veterinary school also come out and learn about the unique livestock they wouldn’t normally cover in class. If students are lucky, or willing to skip class, they can come out and help with the laparoscopic artificial insemination of the deer, help put in and take out CIDRs, or vaccinate and deworm the deer. Having Salt Fork River Ranch so near the school has given Dr. Shipley the ability to teach students about the growing cervid industry.

Raising deer hasn’t always been easy for Doc. He has faced challenges like many other breeders have such as finding fencing, equipment, and other supplies locally at economical prices. This was the hardest in the beginning when deer farming was new, but as the industry has grown so has the availability of items. There was also the recession which changed the deer market across the country. One thing Doc is grateful for is the Illinois Deer Farmers Association. He believes that ILDFA has worked to keep deer farming a viable industry in the face of regulations in the state of Illinois. This is at a time when many other states are cracking down on their cervid industries.

Doc isn’t one to only live in the past though. He is working hard in his retirement to improve the genetics of his herd. He is trying to grow nice deer with big frames that are wanted by the preserve and breeding markets. This is a moving target that once went for the biggest deer, but if you ask many nowadays they would likely tell you that the more desired animals are the more typical looking ones. This is a framework that Doc works within breeding animals for tine length, mass, and main beam length.

Dr. Clifford Shipley has been an asset to the industry for as long as he has been involved and will continue to be involved with cervids for as long as he can. He loves talking to deer farmers and veterinarians about cervid health and management and he always has an open ear.