Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Bur Oaks Red Deer Venison sold throughout country

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 10/15/2013 12:46 PM

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FERTILE, Iowa —Judy Gergen started Bur Oaks Red Deer shortly after moving to her Fertile farm. She had always cared for animals and was lonesome for livestock.

She grew up on a Hampton dairy farm showing and showed Brown Swiss cattle throughout the country. For a time, She ran a horse farm at Rosemount, Minn., showing Paints and Quarter horses. She and her husband, Larry, had an off-site early-wean nursery for a genetics company at New Prague where she cared for 1,200 to 1,400 baby pigs. When Larry got a seed company job in northern Iowa, they sold the nursery, and she was without animals except for two elderly horses.

They had their first experience with red deer when they visited a farm to see a high tensile wire fence they were considering for their farm. buying.

"He had red deer, and he gave us a tour," Gergen said.

The man who owned the deer was part of a cooperative that bought and distributed the meat. Raising animals and not having to be being involved in selling appealed to Gergen.

After much study They signed a contract in 1997, but by the time their first red deer were ready for market in 1999, the cooperative "had gone kaput and I had to sell our meat."

Gergen knocked on doors and built a website, She has sold products to every state. They have a freezer and packing shed on their farm, and customers also buy directly from them. e farm

Gergen has been involved in local food efforts through Healthy Harvest of North Iowa and her red deer will be featured at this year's the Farm to Fork Progressive Dinner to be held at planned for three Mason City venues Oct. 17.

Red deer have been farmed for over more than 2,000 years by the Chinese, and in England and Scotland Small herds inhabit the grounds of large estates in England and Scotland including those of the royal family, Gergen said. In 1975 New Zealand breeders started keeping records on red deer in 1975 and have recorded a females up to 32 years old. The Gergens have had animals as old 21 and currently have two that are 19.

Red deer are a different species, Cervas elaphas, than whitetail deer, Gergen said. North American elk are a subspecies of red deer. They are twice as large as whitetails and half the size of elk.

The Gergens' herd consists of 150 breeding females or hinds. They have three older breeding stags, including No. 13 who is 14. They are saving back three yearling stags to add to the herd. There are 135 calves and 110 yearlings that will be going go to market soon. Gergen has already sold some of the yearling crop, and she saves some back each year.

The stags start growing antlers in April and May and begin rubbing velvet in mid-July. The Gergens cut antlers in September. Gergen explained that they remove antlers for the protection of the deer and themselves. After the antlers are cut, breeding begins. The hinds calve from mid-May to August.

"They are absolutely amazing creatures," Gergen said as she drove her four-wheeler between deer pens with her dog, Teagan.

The Gergens feed hay in the morning and grain at night. Breeding stock and the babies receive a pelleted ration. Deer they are readying for processing receive a grower ration. The ADM rations contain no antibiotics, added hormones or animal fats.

They have 80 acres fenced with 8-foot high tensile wire. Gergen rotates the deer through the pastures. The couple has perfected the handling system used to work the deer in their barn through a series of sliding and swinging gates. They have a hydraulic squeeze chute and a scale. Larry drives the skid loader with the gate on the front and Gergen rattles a plastic sack when they need to herd deer to the barn.

The red deer are processed at the USDA-inspected Winthrop Locker. Bur Oaks Red Deer Venison is all natural with no antibiotics, added hormones or artificial ingredients.

The Gergens sell steaks in a variety of cuts, ground venison, patties, stew meat, sausage, brats, summer sausage, meat sticks and jerky. They ship in styrofoam with a freezer pack covered with a corrugated box.

Red deer venison is high in protein and low in fat and cholesterol. Gergen said to cook it like a loin steak, rare or medium rare.

"Do it quickly so it sears in the juices," she said. "Take it off the heat and let it rest at least five minutes. The French put a pat of butter on top and let that drizzle down to mix with the juices. It's wonderful."

Gergen works with several distributors around the country. Bur Oaks Red Deer was served by a Minneapolis restaurant hosting events for the National Republican Convention, and Sbrocco in Des Moines has featured their venison. Their oldest customer is the Chicago Brauhaus in downtown Chicago which buys whole carcasses and serves red deer each year from just after Thanksgiving until February.

"The chef uses every single part," she said.

Kurt Nyguard, chef at the 1910 Grille in Mason City, asked Gergen for information about her red deer at last year's Farm to Fork dinner. Farmers met the diners at 1910 Grille as they ate the salad course. The Gergens' rib eyes were a meat course at one of the other venues. Since then Nyguard has featured Bur Oaks Red Deer, and he will serve the New York strip as the meat course at this year's dinner.

"A man from Clear Lake who was at last year's dinner said that at his table all the venison was cleaned up," Gergen said. "He said he it was so good."