Rick Vojtik, the Fairchild deer farmer whose chronic wasting disease-infected herd was entirely killed by state and federal agriculture officials in November, has been compensated nearly $300,000.

The state paid Vojtik $298,770, or an average of $1,310 for the 228 deer killed. The state has a maximum indemnity payment of $1,500 per deer for deer farms.

The payments came from the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s general program revenue, which is funded by tax dollars from Wisconsin residents.

Vojtik, who spoke Monday by phone from Louisiana, said the compensation payment was less than half of the appraised value of his herd. His own estimate of the market value of the herd was closer to $1 million, he said, noting that in the captive deer breeding industry, a trophy buck with good genetics can go for up to $8,000.

“That’s what I paid for them,” he said.

However, Vojtik didn’t criticize the state officials he worked with.

“The department of agriculture and the DNR have been good. They’ve followed the protocols. They’ve been polite,” he said.

Because of the presence of CWD there, Vojtik must maintain the fence around the deer farm for five years to keep wild deer out. The property will be disinfected by state agricultural staff.

Vojtik said he may raise cattle or buffalo at the farm, but he would never raise deer at the site again. But he hasn’t ruled out getting back into the deer farming business at a new site or as a partner of an existing operation. He said he will take at least a year to consider his options.

“Right now I do want to get back into deer farming,” he said. “But there’s no reason to jump back into it too fast.”

Vojtik continues to operate American Adventures Ranch, a separate operation near Fairchild where hunters pay to hunt trophy deer. CWD has never been detected there. 

CWD concerns

CWD was first detected at Vojtik’s farm through routine testing of a 7-year-old doe that died in June. The doe had been born on the farm, he said, and no deer on the farm had ever had the disease in 16 years of operation.

The positive case was confirmed later in June through testing at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, considered the definitive testing site for CWD. After confirmation of CWD in the herd, DATCP said the entire herd must be destroyed and every adult animal tested, the normal protocol with CWD in a captive deer herd. 

However, DATCP delayed killing Vojtik’s herd, hoping for federal money to help pay for that process and for payments to Vojtik. On Oct. 1, the beginning of the new federal fiscal year, when it became clear federal money wouldn’t be made available, DATCP decided to kill the deer and pay Vojtik. 

In mid-November state and federal officials killed the deer — 163 adults and 65 fawns — over three days, using guns and lethal injections. Including dead deer sampled before the herd was eliminated, 33 adult deer at the farm tested positive for CWD.

The delay between the initial identification of the disease on the farm in June and the elimination of the herd in November was a concern for hunters and biologists, who feared it could allow the disease to spread within the herd. They also worried an infected deer might escape and spread CWD to wild deer. 

A buck is still apparently on the loose from a number of deer that escaped from the farm in May when a falling tree breached the fence. There was another temporary escape in late summer, when a gate to the farm was left open and deer wandered out. 

Vojtik said he still does not understand how CWD originally got into his herd.

“Nobody has that answer,” he said. “Everybody wants to point that it’s getting around from deer farms. But I know I didn’t get it from another deer farm. We looked at all the records.”

In November state veterinarian Paul McGraw agreed that the disease did not appear to come from deer Vojtik brought in from other farms. CWD has not been found in wild deer in Eau Claire County or adjacent counties.

Contact: 715-830-5835, joe.knight@ecpc.com