Offering Life Saving Advice

Pine Creek Deer Farm

By: Gail Veley
Originally appeared in the Winter 2017-18 Issue of the Upper Midwest Cervid Newsletter

Eddie Ray Borkholder was handling infected deer antlers last year, to stop an infection from spreading in one of his bucks during the velvet shedding season. He'd heard you should always wear gloves, but didn't give it a second thought. With his bare hands he attended to this valued deer. The next day he started to feel sick, and then noticed a streak of red travelling up his arm. Without hesitation he went to the emergency room to be treated for blood poisoning. Shortly afterwards, he reacted badly to the antibiotic treatment and once again was back at the emergency room. It took an entire month, but he made a full recovery.

"It was crazy because a week afterward I helped a friend (cutting antlers) and he didn't wear gloves either, and he ended up in the emergency room too," said Eddie Ray, owner of Pine Creek Farm in Nappanee, Indiana. "Not that he wasn’t warned. Now I know how serious it can be."

Eddie Ray now wears durable arm-length plastic gloves each and every time he handles infected deer antlers, and strongly recommends everyone else does, too. Once you are done wearing them, take them off while turning them inside out, throw them away immediately in a trash can and wash up with antibiotic soap, he stressed.

However the silver lining in his experience, is that it may change the way safety-minded deer farmers handle the velvet shedding season. Eddie Ray now has large street sweeper brushes over a post in his buck pens for the bucks to rub on, for faster velvet shedding. Not one buck ended up with an infection this past season at Pine Creek. "My bucks shed 100% better than they ever did before,” he said. "I usually have two or three every year with problems but with the brushes I had zero." Although the deer were initially very skittish about the brushes, which cost about $200 apiece, after a couple of hours they settled down and started rubbing on them.

The typical shedding season begins around Labor Day weekend each year and lasts two weeks. Once a deer actually begins the shedding process, it‘s usually over in two to three days. If all the velvet is not sufficiently shed, infection can set in. Eddie Ray‘s 35 years of deer farming has now enabled him to handle this period without a hitch. Beginning in August every morning and every night, Eddie Ray or one of his older boys checks the antlers for signs of infection, since the blood flow to them begins to slow down during this time. They also look for signs of trouble by observing the deer's mannerisms, antisocial behavior being the first sign of a problem. "Sometimes you think nothing's wrong and then you take them down and look [at the antlers] and you find something," he said. "If you're not careful flies can lay eggs in open infected areas and you’ll have maggots."

Fly suppression is another management tool Eddie Ray advises to implement. He adds garlic powder bought from a feed mill to his grain, 15 to 20 pounds of garlic powder per ton of grain, to help keep the fly population to a minimum and enhance a deer‘s immune system. The cost of garlic is relatively nothing compared to the budget draining costs of antibiotics to treat antler infections, or the loss of deer. Typically Eddie Ray injects infected deer with the cephalosporin antibiotic Excede, although there are other drugs one can use.

Not only does Eddie Ray work hard to medicate correctly to prevent the loss of deer, he also works hard to ensure no humans are injured by his deer. “The worst thing is a tame buck,” he said. “When they don’t have any fear they could attack during the rut.”

One of his friends and fellow deer farmers, Fritz Helmuth, 60, was attacked by one of his tame buck during the rut. "He went into feed them and had a tame one come up and gore him and knock him down,” Eddie Ray said. "He didn't think he was going to get up and get out of there. So far, I have not had an issue with that because mine aren't tame. I warn my children when they go in to feed to be careful, too.”

Pine Creek deer pens are equipped with self-feeders that are filled from outside the pens, cutting down on the time spent inside them during morning and evening feeding. If Eddie Ray ever needs access to one deer, he can chase the others away and put the desired one into an adjacent corral. This makes his entire deer operation as safe and efficient as possible.

If he knew back in 1983, when he first became a deer farmer, what he knows now "there would have been a lot of shortcuts,” he emphasized. He advises anyone new to deer farming to talk to as many other farmers as they can, to potentially avoid some mistakes that they may have made when they first began. "See what will work best for you,’ he said.

Eddie Ray’s fax number