Austin Wheatley adding elk and antelope at his deer farm in Hawesville
In the August 1st, 2019 edition of the Clarion, the late Dave Taylor wrote about Austin Wheatley when he had been raising deer for one year at his farm in Hawesville. Austin was 23, and had grown his herd of fenced-in deer from 3 to a herd of 35 in the course of that first year.
He has now been in this unique farming business for 5 years and has around 65 white tail deer. He also began raising elk and black buck antelope about 2 years ago, and has 20 elk and 12 antelope.
“The white tails are about to multiply here soon,” he said. “I’ve got fawns any day now that are going to be born. I raise them up and try to get the racks as big as I can. I sell them to the highest buyer, anywhere from $10-$15K. There are several places where they have big hunting areas and they like our genetics. We’re getting the best genetics that we possibly can. Anyone interested in raising deer themselves, we’ll sell the does to them, or there have been places that they’ll buy them as well, to turn-out for their breeding facilities.”
He stays very busy farming and continuously invests in the business. He got into it mainly, he said, because it’s something he loves to do. He grew up hunting and farming with his family. He also works full-time at Commonwealth.
“If it wasn’t for my family,” he said, “I wouldn’t be able to do it all. My mom (Connie Wheatley) and my little sister, Laura, bottle feed every fawn for me throughout the summertime, 4 times a day. We like to try to keep a calm herd, because they are wild animals still. We try to keep them really calm, and easy to work. They also help me feed a lot of times when I can’t get here.” He has some elk calves due any day now, and said they’re going to attempt to bottle feed a couple of them this year as well.
“My older sister (Shaina Wheatley Hart, DVM) became a veterinarian,” he said. “She’s in Cadiz, KY now. She bought a clinic down there with her friend (Trigg County Veterinarian Clinic). She helps me out a lot. I couldn’t have done a lot of this without her. If she isn’t able to come here, she’ll walk me through it over the phone.”
The black buck antelope he’s raising are originally from India, and Austin says they are similar to goats. “They grow horns that spiral up,” he said. “They call them black buck antelope, because when the males mature they turn black and white. When they’re young, they’re brown and white. There is a big demand for them. It’s very hard to raise them up here, because they’re not used to our cold climates in the winter, but I got some that are northern acclimated. They’ve taken them and bottle fed them, and slowly introduced them to cold weather.”
The antelope struggle with cold weather, and love the heat. Alternatively, the elk and deer are challenged with the heat, and don’t mind the cold in wintertime. He said he turns on sprinklers for them when it’s really hot.
“The deer do great in the wintertime,” he said, “but when a drought comes around you have to watch for EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease) and blue tongue as well. My deer can get that just like the ones in the wild.”
His older brother, Logan, and he raise corn together. The harvest feeds Logan’s cattle and Austin’s animals. He mixes his own feed with cracked corn, roasted soybeans and other ingredients like garlic, as a bug deterrent. “It’s better if you don’t feed elk a lot of grain,” he said. “We try to keep a lot of grass for them in the summertime. In the winter we’ll feed them hay. We’re going to try out corn salad this year. A lot of people do that in Canada.
I feed at around 5 a.m., and again in the evening, right before dark, just because it’s a lot of stress on the animals in the heat, so I try to wait until it’s cooler. It takes about an hour and a half. If you have some of them get sick, then you have to go back and take care of them. Every day my family comes out and helps me. I could not have done it without them. I don’t think I’d ever be able to repay what they’ve helped me do over the years.”
His mom, Connie, is Chief Deputy Property Valuation Administrator for Hancock County. His sister Laura just graduated with many honors from HCHS, and is starting college in fall.
“A lot of people around here don’t understand why we do it,” Connie said. “The reason Austin got into it is he didn’t have the ground to raise cattle. He had to rent land and didn’t have the equipment. It’s not a bad business for you, if you want to dabble in raising some animals to sell, because they’re enjoyable to work with.
My older kids used to raise tobacco and cows with us when my husband (Denny) was alive. Laura missed out on some of that, because we already had stopped doing some of that stuff when she was born. So, the deer have kind of given her that. She’s had to learn how to put something else before her. They need to be fed and taken care of.
We pull them sometimes from their mother if we feel like they’re maybe not going to do as well. Usually a mother will have 2 or 3 fawns. She can handle 2 most of the time, but 3 is going to be too much for her. So, it’s good to pull one. And, sometimes it’s good to pull 2, and just leave one with her, because she can raise it better.”
Austin has also begun selling deer urine to hunters. Having some that are more gentle, because they were bottle fed when they were young, helps out with completing that process and with any time they have to give them medicine and such when they’re grown. “We catch them right there whenever they’re ready to go (to collect the urine in a cup),” Austin said. “Me and my mom get up early in the mornings. It’s an antsy job, but we do it.”
Along with help from his older sister Shaina, Austin said he depends on the state veterinarian. “State vets actually protect us with raising these animals,” he said, “because there are a lot of people who don’t think we should raise deer and elk. The state vet is in our corner and backing us in all this. It helps us out a lot.
I’ve spent the last 5 to 6 years of my life pouring every dollar I’ve made into this and I’m still doing it today, because I know what it can be and where it can go. I want to see it succeed very well. That’s my goal. I want to try to have the best. I want people calling me when they’re looking for something special.
I go to a lot of big auctions where they’re selling some of the best genetics out there for the deer. I’ve gone to several around French Lick, a world-wide deer auction, where you can talk to people from Texas, Oklahoma, New York and all kinds of people who are doing the same business. You can learn from them. It’s definitely different. Nobody is really doing it around here.
Different is good sometimes, is how I always like to look at it. Everybody has their own thing they like to do in life. I’ve always enjoyed this kind of stuff. This is my dream, to try to be the number one guy in the state of KY raising these one day.”
Austin said he’d like the community to be very careful when traveling the road by his farm. “I know these animals are different looking,” he said. “You don’t see them very often. It is neat to stop and look, but out of respect for my animals, and not only them, but the other people on the road, don’t stop in the curve. There’s a curve right here in the road, and I don’t want to see anybody get hurt and have a wreck because somebody was stopped to look. Be mindful of that, please.”
By Jennifer Wimmer