By Gene Stanley/Staff Correspondent
In 1998, Terry Turk saw a dream fulfilled when he bought a captive whitetail deer. ‘A,’ as in one.
Today, Turk’s Bama Bucks farm contains over 250 deer along with three kangaroos, three elk and a pair of peafowl on his Sardis City farm. And that only counts the outdoor animals.
There are also peafowl eggs in an incubator.
Turk’s family motto is, ‘Create tomorrow what you dream today.’
“My children have always had ferrets and hedgehogs and other non-traditional pets in the house,” he said. “They are like me in that they prefer more unusual pets.”
His children include 20-year-old Jay, who is attending UAB, where he played football until this year when his medical studies got in the way of sports. There is also 17-year-old Cody, who will be a senior three-sport athlete for the Sardis High Lions this year, and Josie, a 10-year-old four-sport athlete at Sardis. Jennifer, Terry’s wife, is a teacher at Asbury High.
Like almost every other deer Turk has now and has had, that first one had a story.
Turk, who for Marshall DeKalb Electric Co-op, was helping out in Florence following a snowstorm when a conversation with a Florence-area worker led him to a man with deer for sale.
When he got home, Turk tore down his two-year-old pasture fences and installed an 8-foot-high deer fence.
Five months later, he packed up and went back to Florence, only to find the man had just sold his last deer for the year. However, the dealer sent him to one of his friends, who sold Turk a deer.
“When I was opening the guillotine door to let him out of the box, I was like a kid at Christmas,” he said. “The deer ran out of the box, ran a couple of circles and ran right into the fence, breaking its neck.”
Later that summer, though, Turk finally got a deer that lived.
At the moment, Turk and family are bottle-feeding 21 animals, including six puppies whose mother died. Turk bought Penny because she was such a good deer trailer. Two days after he acquired her, she had pups.
So now Turk is hoping that at least one puppy inherits Penny’s deer-trailing ability. They are currently only a couple of weeks old, though.
Turk and his family keep 25 acres mowed. Turk allows some grass grow high in each enclosure for habitat purposes.
“Deer like to have a place to lay down and hide,” he explained. “Especially fawns and pregnant does will lie in it a lot.”
In his extra enclosures, Turk occasionally plants oats, barley and other grains.
Turk is using artificial insemination to breed bigger and better deer. All of his deer are whitetail, but a lot of them look nothing like Alabama deer because of his breeding northern stock.
“The closer to the equator you get, the smaller the deer are,” he said. “Deer in Canada are huge compared to deer in Florida. So I’m improving the bloodline of these deer by breeding them to be bigger yet live in Alabama.”
The farm performs all of its artificial insemination in one day each November. A buck does a backup following the procedure, just in case the AI doesn’t take. After birth, each fawn has a DNA sample taken to find out which method sired it.
Each deer is also tagged and microchipped. The microchip has DNA information to prevent in-breeding.
It is illegal to bring live deer into Alabama, so Turk buys straws of semen from out of state. One straw impregnates two does. If maintained in the right conditions, semen can be kept forever. Turk used the example of a buck that died 10 years ago who will “sire” a couple of fawns soon.
There was even a rare brown and while piebald deer born at Turk’s farm last June.
“We’ve birthed over 800 deer here, and Charlie was the first piebald,” Turk said.
Even with all the deer he owns, Turk still sends around 60 to other farms each year.
It is illegal to send a caged deer into the wild and vice versa.
“I don’t fully understand law, that because we as breeders are increasing the genetics of our deer,” Turk said. “If we could release some [deer], they would help increase the genetics of the wild population.”
Oddly enough, summer is deadlier for deer than winter, especially for fawns. Because the heat and rain, pneumonia can easily set in.
In another oddity, Turk has never found one tick on any of his deer. He said he mixes garlic in his feed and he thinks that is the answer to that problem.
The three red kangaroos on the farm soon will be joined by two more. They are expected to arrive in mid-August.
Turk does community projects with his kangaroos, including allowing school children to see and pet them. When traveling, the Turks carry the kangaroos in over-the-shoulder pouches. All three of his kangaroos are very friendly and house-trained.
In fact, Turk said the animals sit in a car seat and just look out the windows, for the most part.
Not all of the time, however.
“One day Jennifer, was driving, and two of [the kangaroos] were in the backseat,” Turk said. “They started fighting, just like two kids on a long drive. Jenn got onto them and they settled at once and started looking out the windows.
“She said that after that, every time she looked in the rearview mirror, they would turn and look at her, like they were trying to apologize with their eyes.”
Turk believes that his elk are the only ones raised in Etowah County.
“I don’t know of anyone else who has elk,” he said. “If there are anymore, I’d love to know about them.”
Both of Turk’s elk cows are pregnant, and he believes they will be the first elk to be born in the county.
He bought the two cows as bottle-feeders and added the bull last year as a yearling.
All in all, Turk buys five tons of feed per week.
“Jennifer asks me all the time about the money,” he said with a laugh. “We have to make money selling fawns and selling pregnant does.”