Eli Keim walked gingerly through knee-high weeds, mentally noting his position with each step.
Searching for baby deer requires caution (fawns often won't move from spots designated by their mothers) and diligence (the days-old youngsters blend in with logs and undergrowth).
Keim, an Amish deer farmer, looked in piles of brush and branches, near downed trees and throughout patches of tall grasses before spotting his first of the evening, a tan-with-white-spots buck resting motionless among trees and vegetation.
"They like the tall weeds," he said.
Many Wayne County farmers have focused on cows, hogs, chickens and other more traditional livestock, but nearly 200 local agricultural operations reported raising some other type of animal. In fact, the county ranked seventh in sales of "other livestock and other animal products," with $525,000 reported during the ag census.
Specialty livestock raised in the area included bison (630 animals on four farms); deer (439 animals on 15 farms); goats (1,091 animals on 140 farms); llamas (57 animals on 11 farms); mules, burros and donkeys (26 animals on 14 farms); and rabbits and their pelts (238 animals on 15 farms).
Keim started raising deer about 10 years ago. He had about 30 acres of land (some swampy), and a relative was raising the animals as a hobby. So he and a brother-in-law decided to give it a try, too.
They put an eight-foot fence around their property and some additional acres they lease, installed some smaller fences inside to create separate sections and added feeding stations and water troughs.
Keim started small, with a handful of bred does and bucks that kept to the trees and tall grass when people were around.
"You could hardly find them," Keim said.
Today, the herd includes about 56 adults and 21 young deer. And theyre still difficult to find at times, though Keim"s trained eye can spot them at a distance.
"You see the ears moving back and forth?" he asked, motioning to a small, brownish patch in some otherwise green weeds.
The animals breed late in the year, and most of the fawns (generally twins) are born in May and June. Keim and family members spend several hours each evening searching for, catching and tagging newborns.
The animals receive regular inoculations, and they have to be tested during the year for chronic wasting disease and tuberculosis.
Many farm-raised deer end up in preserves, which accommodate private hunting. But there's an increasing interest in the genetics of deer, too. Top-scoring bucks bring high dollars at sales (sometimes upward of $40,000 per head) or for breeding services (as much as $3,500 per straw of semen), Keim said.
Each deer raised on the farm is tagged, and Keim is creating a growing record of animals' lineage. In particular, he keeps an eye out for deer with heavy-massed antler stems with five points on each side.
"We prefer something that looks like a deer," he said.