A lot of Missourians hunt deer, eat deer, even watch for deer while driving down the highway. But how many have dropped a cool 150 grand for an unborn fawn?

You’d be surprised. Deer farming is big business in Missouri. The Missouri White Tail Breeders Association says there are 300 breeders in the state and they want oversight from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not the Missouri Department of Conservation.

At issue is health testing for domestic deer — breeders say Conservation officials aren’t qualified and that following federal regulations would make interstate sales and shipping less complicated. Deer have to be certified as healthy, free of tuberculosis, CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease) and others before they can be shipped to other states.

Jerry Campbell of Midwest Whitetail Deer Sales says the economic impact of domestic deer farming in the U.S. is estimated at $3.4 billion. The two leading states in raising domestic deer are Texas and Pennsylvania, he says, but Missouri has a growing industry. Campbell, who is a certified appraiser, says his herd is worth an estimated $1.7 million.

Sen. Chuck Pergason (R-Caulfield) told the breeders they should think twice about asking the federal government — not the state — to oversee their business. He voiced concerns about relinquishing control from state officials, where Missouri residents have a voice, to federal officials.

“I just hope that you’re not back five years from now, if this passes, wishing you were back under Conservation and pretty well having to deal with those problems on your own instead of dealing with the federal administration and … the rules that they’re putting down to regulate you,” Pergason said.

No one spoke in opposition to the bill. Sen. Dan Clemens (R-Marshfield) is sponsor of the bill. He says all parties involved are in favor of the legislation.

He says basically his bill takes the responsibility for all health issues for privately owned raised deer in captivity away from the Department of Conservation and gives it to the Department of Agriculture.

Bill Pittenger, president of the Missouri Whitetail Breeders and Hunting Ranches Association, says his group’s 280 members, along with the 300 breeders and 40 hunting ranches in the state, are in favor of the legislation.

“Each state has its own rules on CWD, there are no federal rules written,” he said. “We’ve been asking the federal government for 10 years for federal rules so all states can be on same page.”

Breeders now rely on Conservation to check for CWD, he said, and have to get an entry permit for TB and brucellosis to bring animals in from another state, he says.

“Right now you could go to Colorado and shoot a deer, in an area that’s had CWD for 25 years or more and bring that animal right back and throw it out on your property once you’re done with it,” Pittenger said, “but if you buy a deer from my pen and take it out somewhere, they act like it’s a major crime.”

Jessica Machetta reports