Deer farming in Ireland is an alternative enterprise which is dependent on the dynamics of supply and demand which affect all agricultural production systems. In 1996 there were approximately 500 deer farms with 20,000 deer in Ireland, but numbers have declined sharply since that time.
Today there are only a small number of farmers in Ireland actively supplying deer for meat production, which cater primarily to specialised niche markets. The sector is reliant upon producers and companies ensuring that a market exists for their product, an objective which Bord Bia assists in by identifying and developing potential market outlets.
There was some recent growth in the Irish market during 2016 for example with around 764 deer slaughtered for this market, but this declined to 271 deer for 2017, and only 185 for 2018.
Growth in the past was achieved as a result of improved distribution for game meats, especially in supermarkets. Game and exotic meats historically occupy a premium, niche segment of the meat market. Whilst there are opportunities to compete with the larger premium segment of the red meat/poultry categories, it is important to note that demand is seasonal, with the greatest concentration of retail shelf space dedicated to game in the Winter/Christmas period.
My Department has approved one factory for the slaughter of deer in Ireland, and two game handling plants. There may also be outlets for processing of venison in Local Authority approved plants, but this would be a matter for the Local Authority concerned.