Trends in Texas Deer Breeding
I feel very fortunate to have been involved with the Texas Deer Breeding industry for more than 20 years. As in any industry, trends have come and gone which shaped decisions for producers and purchasers of breeder deer. The latest trends in Texas deer breeding are good news for Texas ranches and landowners, as they emphasize a return to the roots of Texas deer breeding; the improvement of Texas pasture genetics.
Greater Percentage of Texas Genetics
True Texas genetics survive and thrive better in the harsh environment of Texas. This is a tough lesson many Texas landowners have had to learn the hard way. The influx of northern, out of state genetics to Texas breeding programs began in the late 1990s and expanded through the next decade. The purpose of bringing the northern genetics into Texas breeding programs was to produce better antler quality at a younger age. Breeders began producing animals with antler scores in excess of 300” on a regular basis. In recent years, it has not been unusual to see bucks scoring in excess of 400” – even at the ages of 2 or 3 years old.
Like most magic beans, the higher scores at younger ages came with a price. The phenotype of the northern deer (larger body sizes, heavier hair etc.) were much more susceptible to heat stress than their Texas counterparts. Under this increased stress, northern crosses were much more apt to fail in immune response to common southern viruses such as Bluetongue and EHD. Some also suggest that the northern deer lack genetic resistance to these diseases, as their ancestors lack the eons of immune system challenges that countless generations of Texas deer have encountered. These viruses are common in Texas; occurring on an annual basis. Whereas, deer in the Midwest region of the USA might go years without seeing an outbreak of the virus and only under particular weather conditions.
The trend for Texas deer breeders, especially in south Texas, has been to identify and utilize true Texas genetics for breeding. This has dramatically reduced mortality amongst breeders who have dedicated themselves to this program. That same benefit has translated to hardier deer in the pasture, in all age classes, for Texas landowners purchasing deer from these breeders.
Emphasis on Clean Typicals
Another casualty of the proliferation of northern genetics has been the clean typical buck. As deer breeders in Texas raced to grow bigger and bigger deer at a younger age, the big non-typical buck became the standard rather than the exception. Genetics in deer breeding programs are so entrenched with non-typical characteristics that the ability to produce big framed clean typical bucks has become difficult for many breeders.
Certainly, some breeders did not lose sight of the market demand for big framed clean typical bucks and concentrated their programs on sustaining that look in their programs. In addition, increased demand for cleaner typicals has stimulated many breeders to reemphasize typical genetics as a big part of their breeding programs. What was once a market driven by the score of the buck has become a market driven by the LOOK of a buck. That’s good news for Texas landowners who have spoken loud and clear about their desire for big-framed Texas typicals.
Highest CWD Testing Rates in Texas
The unfortunate discovery of CWD in a Texas deer breeding facility in 2015 triggered a massive response from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Animal Health Commission. Regulatory agencies raised the minimum testing requirements of adult mortalities in deer breeding facilities from 20% to 80%, and breeders were required to implement tens of thousands of live animal CWD tests in facilities all across the state. In many cases, more than half of a facility’s adult population was tested to give the state the level of confidence needed.
These enormous increases in CWD testing for Texas deer breeding facilities have resulted in two very positive points for Texas landowners. First, statistics show that the number of deer breeding facilities affected by CWD in the state of Texas is less than one half of one percent. In addition, the affected facilities are tightly grouped in a very small geographical area with the exception of one facility which purchased animals from the one of the source facilities. While the initial source of CWD in that geographical area remains unclear, the lack of any additional positive cases outside that area is redemption for Texas deer breeders. In fact, data indicate that the incidence of CWD in wild populations of Texas deer (in multiple geographical locations and with much less stringent testing requirements) may prove to have greater effects on Texas than those encountered in deer breeding facilities, where higher testing rates and movement control regulations are in place.
Texas breeder deer have now been tested at a higher rate than any deer population in the country. While the rhetoric from those philosophically opposed to deer breeding continues to suggest that deer breeders are causing and spreading CWD, the facts simply prove otherwise. Texas deer breeders have undergone the toughest CWD testing regiment in history, and proven that deer herd in Texas breeding facilities is safe and healthy. This is great news for Texas landowners seeking to improve their properties!