March 16, 2010

Red deer roaming at a Maine family farm


— By

For the Maine Sunday Telegram

Red deer look tame, but you have to remember they are wild animals, Norman Luce points out when talking about his 250 to 300 deer at Shady Maple Deer Farm/Lemon Stream Gamelands in Anson.

Luce and his wife, Beth, operate the deer farm on 1,000 acres of woodland and rolling pastures. It started as kind of a hobby, but it's become a full-time job for Beth. She's the farmer.

Norman, who serves as president of the Maine Deer Farm Association, works construction and helps out on the farm.

Shady Maple, located 50 miles north of Augusta, is pristine and well-kept, and is well worth the trip off the beaten path because it isn't the kind of place you see every day.

Beth and Norman started with cows. But when the corn was ready to pick one night, it wasn't there the next morning. Beth said, the cows have to go. One morning, they saw an ad in the paper for red deer. ''We just love them,'' she said.

Shady Maple welcomes visitors. Just make sure Beth or Norman are home. There are walking trails through the woods where you may or may not encounter deer.

The younger deer are housed in the front pastures and are out in plain sight. They run together as a herd, and spar and mark their position as to who is the head male (stag) and doe.

From Labor Day to April, the Luces operate a big-game hunt club, Lemon Stream Gamelands, separate from the farm. They have fenced off 300 out of 1,000 acres, making it a challenging event.

Hunters come to the high-fenced park for several days or an entire week, where they may hunt for deer, elk, fallow deer or buffalo. Beth explains it isn't a canned hunt. ''The deer run; they aren't stupid. You have to work to find them.''

While the deer aren't what you'd call friendly, Beth has had a few that have become special friends.

''I handle most of the animals,'' she said. ''They all have their own personalities, their own temperaments.''

Beth can call the deer into the barnyard. She can walk up to some and pet them, just like a dog. That is, she can in certain seasons.

The males are laid back when it's not rutting (mating) season. Then you don't want to go near them, as they are very aggressive. But other than that, the females are generally much more antagonistic, and when they have their babies, you won't see the young. They are very protective.

While the deer are still shedding their winter coat in June, they are bigger and more beautiful by July. The deer drop their antlers in March, within a week of the previous year. The antlers can grow one to three inches a day.

Today, there are only about 50,000 red deer in North America. Most are native to New Zealand and Europe.

Much larger than their white-tailed counterparts, red deer resemble elk more than deer, and they can crossbreed with elk. Shady Farm also has 10 buffalo roaming in a separate pasture.

''The big buffalo -- they are a 24/7 eating machine. You don't try to pet them,'' Beth said.

BJ Bangs, a freelance writer, puts together stories about places to go and see that are off the beaten path. She may be reached at

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