For the past 20 years, Dirk and Jane Stolz have been raising deer on their farm located on Townline Road, just west of Kewaskum. Now, after one of the family’s bucks tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), the farm has been quarantined. “I will never be able to move another live animal off of this farm ever again.
If I can’t move a live animal off the farm, then that means I can’t sell anything. So basically our doors are shut. We are out of business,” Dirk said. “It is pretty devastating. There have been a lot of sleepless nights for the last week because our entire business is pretty much gone,” he added.
This was the first case of CWD in Washington County. CWD is believed to be caused by an infectious prion or protein. The disease typically progresses in white tail deer in one to two years, according to Dr. Paul McGraw, Wisconsin state veterinarian. “CWD causes damage to the brain and progresses.
It is always fatal to deer,” McGraw said. The disease spreads to deer and elk through saliva, feces and urine. “There has not been any proof that it causes disease in other species, including humans, but public health would always recommend that you test your deer and not consume the meat if it is from a positive deer,” McGraw said. It is possible that all the deer on the infected farm will need to be eradicated, Dirk said.
The thought is unbearable to the family. Dirk and Jane have two daughters, ages 13 and 15, who have been around the deer their entire lives. When they were toddlers, the girls started bottle feeding the deer.
The family has named the deer and consider them pets. “They literally walk into our house and our exposed basement, so it is devastating for the kids knowing that every one of them has to potentially get killed here,” Dirk said. In total, the family has about 44 whitetails and 16 elk on their farm, which is named Tamarack Elk and Deer Farm.
The animals are all kept behind 8-foot fences. Even if the deer are gone, those fences must remain up for the next five years. “If you can imagine the impact looking out my window every day and have to look at empty pens, knowing what we had here. It’s a huge, huge loss,” Dirk said.
The family had invested a lot of money into developing genetics for the breeding farm. The entire family was involved, and it helped to develop dreams for the future. “My daughter wants to be a reproductive vet. It’s a pretty big business, and she has really liked working with it,” Dirk said.
He can relate to her interest in the field. “I enjoyed doing genetics, studying pedigrees and genetics, with traits, and see what you can grow. It definitely is interesting. It’s a science,” he said. The family would use the science to grow certain blood lines. The result was developing prize antlers.
But genetics are not cheap. “They were really expensive years ago. Straws of semen were selling for $3,000 a straw to $25,000 a straw. We had a lot invested into it,” Dirk said. CWD was first found in Wisconsin in 2002. Any deer over the age of 1 that dies on a deer farm is required to be tested for CWD. It typically takes about two weeks to get test results.
The state is currently running tests to try to determine how the local buck contracted the disease. There is no way to test a live animal for the disease, McGraw said. The infected Kewaskum buck was born on the Stolz 15-acre farm in May 2015. “From what we gather right now, the disease didn’t come from another deer farm.
So it’s probably an environmental thing,” Dirk said. The deer could have contracted the illness from the soil. Or perhaps a bird brought the disease into the farm. The 2-year-old buck had not shown any signs of illness. However, it did not have an easy life.
When he was young, the deer was gored by another buck, breaking his leg and injuring a nerve on his back. “So he basically was a three-legged deer,” Dirk said. Last year, the deer was put back in the pen with 17 bucks. Being a threelegged deer, he was pushed around by the other bucks.
Several weeks ago, he was attacked by a more dominant buck, and he died from the injuries, Dirk said. The deer will be missed. So will the lifestyle. “For me, deer farming is a way to turn off the bad side of the world,” said Dirk, who works as a deputy for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. “To be able to go to the pens every night, petting the animals and looking them over, was amazing. To lose all of that is a heartbreaker.”