Code of Accepted Farming Practice for the Welfare of Deer

Domesticated deer are kept in situations varying from small enclosures on fauna parks or intensive deer farms, to extensive grazing at low stocking rates on unimproved pastures.

This code assumes that, whatever the form of husbandry, managers have a duty to care for the welfare of the animals under their control, and that this care should be separate from the interests of production.

The basic behavioural, anatomical and physiological needs of deer vary considerably between species and are considered in this code. The absence of mention of any particular practice should not be seen to imply that such a practice is acceptable or not acceptable. Management practices need to be considered for the impact on the welfare of animals.

Competent stockmanship is very important in ensuring animal welfare. An important skill of the competent stockman is the ability to recognise the early signs of distress or disease in animals, so that the cause can be identified and prompt, appropriate, remedial action taken.

Deer have the following basic requirements:

  • food and water, to sustain health and vitality
  • protection from predators
  • protection from extremes of climate
  • provision of appropriate management to allow for the establishment of herd social hierarchy
  • protection from disease
  • protection from physical pain and injury
  • further advice on the husbandry and nutrition programs and disease control procedures for deer can be obtained from the department  and the Victorian Deer Breeders' Association.

Food and water

  • Deer should be provided with food that will maintain health and vitality.
  • Food provided for deer should meet the requirements for annual cycles in froth, pregnancy and lactation.
  • Deer should not be allowed to starve to death.
  • Where requirements of health and vitality cannot be met, deer should be moved, agisted, sold, or slaughtered on site
  • Deer being fed for survival should be examined regularly — less thrifty deer may need to be segregated for special treatment.
  • Deer too weak to stand and walk should be slaughtered on site.
  • Nutritional factors essential for growth, health and vitality should not be deliberately withheld from deer.
  • Deer should be protected as far as possible from dietary components and foreign materials deleterious to their health.
  • Changes of diet generally require gradual introduction of new components over several days.


  • Deer should have access to water.
  • Deer should not be allowed to die of thirst.
  • Drinking water that may cause ill-health should not be provided for deer.
  • Drinking water should be provided to deer in a way that minimises fouling by animals.
  • Where the requirements of health and vitality cannot be met, deer should be moved, agisted sold or slaughtered on site.

Protection from climatic extremes and predation

  • Farmed deer should have access to sufficient shelter and shade to minimise cold and heat stress.
  • All reasonable steps should be taken to minimise the effects of climatic extremes and other factors that produce either cold or heat stress. Bush or other shelter in paddocks can minimise the effects of stress.
  • Reasonable steps should be taken to ensure that deer may be attended to promptly in the event of either fire or flood.
  • Reasonable means should be used to protect deer from predation.

Space and accommodation

  • Deer require social interactions with members of their own species. Management should limit the effects of stress and abnormal aggressive behaviour between herd members.
  • Facilities for deer should be constructed, maintained and used so as to minimise the risk of injury and disease.
  • Holding yards should be of appropriate size to comfortably accommodate animals and not predispose them to injury.

Management practices


  • Practices that cause pain should not be carried out on deer if painless and practical methods of husbandry can be adopted to achieve the same result.
  • Deer should not be allowed to suffer painful conditions for want of attention.
  • Frequency and level of inspection of deer should be related to the likelihood of risk of their welfare.
  • Appropriate hygienic precautions should be undertaken for all operations.
  • Management procedures carried out on deer should be performed competently.
  • Restraint used on deer should be only as much as is needed to efficiently carry out procedures on them.


  • Ear-tagging, ear-marking, ear-notching, ear tattooing and freeze branding are the preferred methods of identifying deer.
  • Branding by means of corrosive chemicals and fire-branding should not be carried out.


  • Castration should not be done until the testicles have descended into the scrotum.
  • Castration of deer should be performed when the animal has been made insensitive to pain using anaesthesia or analgesia and techniques to control bleeding.

Removal of antlers

  • For protection of handlers, other deer, and facilities, male deer should have their antlers removed annually before development of hard antler.
  • Removal of velvet antlers should be the responsibility of a registered veterinary surgeon. The procedure should be performed when the animal has been made insensitive to pain using analgesia, anaesthesia, tranquilisation or sedation as appropriate.
  • Removal of hard antlers should be undertaken in a manner that minimises discomfort to the animal.

Mustering, driving, yarding, drafting

  • Handling facilities should be constructed and used in such a way that injury to deer, and pain and fear, are minimised.
  • Deer in hard antler should not be yarded with other deer.

Protection from disease

  • Sick, injured or diseased deer should be given prompt and appropriate treatment or slaughtered.
  • Slaughter should be performed humanely.
  • Appropriate preventive treatment should be administered to deer for diseases that are common in a district or are occurring in a herd.
  • Internal medication, such as vaccines and drenches, and external medication such as dips, should be given in a responsible manner. Overdosing may harm deer.

Approved by the Governor-in-Council
- Issued by the Minister of Agriculture
Protection of Animals Act 1966

The advice provided in this publication is intended as a source of information only. Always read the label before using any of the products mentioned. The State of Victoria and its employees do not guarantee that the publication is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence which may arise from you relying on any information in this publication.

Page last updated: 29 Jan 2024