Stag Nation —by Jinny Batterson
On a January trip to New Zealand,
Pedaling with a small group of bicycle tourists
Through the countryside near the Southern Alps.
My aging calf muscles complain. It’s hard to keep up
With others younger, fitter, better trained.
Finally, I resign myself to pedaling solo
Until our luncheon rest stop. On a flat
Stretch, I’m startled to see a stag with big, velvety
Antlers on the other side of a high, strong fence.
Once reunited with our group and guides, I ask
About the stag. “Lots of farmers have
Switched from raising sheep to raising deer,”
Another guest, a proud Kiwi, explains.
“Most are thoroughly domesticated and
Slaughtered young for the venison that
Has a stable market at premium
Prices in Europe, but some bucks are allowed
To mature until they have trophy-sized
Racks on top. Then they may be released
Into semi-wild areas where European and
American hunters will pay hefty fees to shoot them.”
Somehow this seems unsportsmanlike
To me, but I can understand how farmers
Trying to cope with falling commodity prices
For lamb and wool would latch onto almost any
Alternative. I admire the beauty of the
Countryside, the resilience and adaptability
Of New Zealanders, even as I wish for less lethal
Outcomes for the stags.
Back home, I learn that the U.S. has deer farms, too, though,
Most American deer are still wild. Both wild
And farmed herds here may carry a wasting disease.
I research the Kiwis’ deer practices further. Turns out,
They’re transitioning from staging stag hunts to
Harvesting the stags’ horns for their velvet.
Humane harvest does not hurt the stags, who regrow
New antlers each year naturally. The velvet contains
Compounds widely used for possible medical benefits.
I wonder if American farmers and sportsmen
Could learn this velvet touch.