Anti-venison Vs. Pro-beef Merits A Reality Check

By: Bob McNitt

Anti-venison vs. pro-beef merits a reality check

For those people who believe deer hunting is wrong, maybe it's time for a reality check. Consider the difference between a hunter taking a deer and a rancher selling his beef cattle. Some might view this comparison as oversimplified, but the differences are less than we often envision, given our contemporary societal attitudes. But there are also a few glaring differences which many don't, or choose not to, consider.

When we view the two species, both can be and are a source of meat for our consumption. However, deer are a pure natural strain that live in the "wilds." Beef cattle are the result of specialized breeding that has resulted in a once-wild animal that also lived in the "wilds" but has been domesticated and genetically altered for a specific purpose: food. The population of whitetails in the nation today is estimated to be nearly 40 million, and there are an estimated 100 million beef cattle.

The sustenance required by both deer and cattle depends on the quality of the food, its availability and amount, and the number or density of animals utilizing it. With deer, they are totally dependent on a combination of natural and cultivated foods within their range. Cattle foods are largely manipulated according to the total acreage of grazing land, but also supplemented by grain and cultivated food provided by the rancher. In both species, the amount of available food is the primary limiting factor in supporting densities. Ranchers control this by only having enough cattle that the ranch – and the ranchers' cattle food budget – can support. Excess animals are sold. Deer densities, on the other hand, are uncontrolled and continue to expand until there is insufficient food available, and starvation culls the excess animals.

Densities in deer ranges expand at a more rapid rate than cattle since, on average, a female deer produces two offspring annually, while a cow produces just one. The gestation period of a deer is about five months while a cow's is nine. Deer breed naturally while the majority of cattle are artificially bred today. Thus, a rancher can control the number of cows' offspring in any given year. Other than natural causes such as starvation, disease and natural predation, deer numbers are uncontrolled. How prolific are deer? If you started with just a single adult whitetail buck and doe, in 10 years you'd have a herd of almost 1,000 deer.

Deer live a natural lifestyle in their environment. Cattle live in a manmade and controlled environment. Deer have the opportunity to survive. Cattle meant for beef don't. Beef cattle are there for one purpose, to supply the nation with meat. So of those 100 million beef cattle, how many do you think die of old age? Those millions of clean packages of steaks, roasts and burger in the stores' meat departments were once live animals. When a deer dies and becomes venison, it at least had the opportunity to escape – and believe me, a great many do each hunting season. When a beefer dies, it was preplanned and destined to be.

I'm not trying to turn anyone into a strict vegetarian, but our society continues to distance itself from the natural world and its workings. Its attitude progressively becomes unrealistic and uninformed of not just the natural environment beyond the urban centers, but it also develops a unrealistic view of how it's able to survive there, given that it depends on someone else for almost all its needs and sustenance. When reviewing those cleanly wrapped steaks in the store case, how often does the image of a soft-eyed cow come to mind? Or how that cow was transformed from a whole animal into store packages? But some of the same people argue that transforming a deer into venison is cruel and wrong. Isn't that a bit hypocritical? But that's how some of our contemporary society has changed. It wants to eat, but let someone else get their hands bloody.

I can be thankful that I grew up on an operating farm where we produced much of our own food. Much of that food came from animals we raised, but some also came from wild animals we hunted and harvested. We knew where that beef roast came from because we had the hands-on experience of producing it from beginning to end. Deer, grouse, pheasant, rabbit and squirrel meat supplemented our diet, and was a welcome break from domestic meats. When a hen quit laying eggs, she became Sunday dinner. Nothing went to waste, and because we were involved in the entire procedure, our appreciation of what sustained us was much greater than if it were purchased at the super market.

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