Opinion

Ash Hill deer farm is worth a visit

By V. Paul Reynolds

If you flew a drone low over a multi-acre parcel of farmland, not far from Ash Hill in Carmel Maine, you would not believe your wide eyes! At first glance, you would behold a herd of elk, including a large-racked bull, like you might see high in the Colorado Rockies. Upon closer inspection, especially, if you walked closer to the fourth generation Swett Farm at the end of the Swett Road, you would see, milling about, more than 90 head of European red deer. You would be, not in the Rockies, but at Ash Hill View Deer Farm, where father and son, Ken Swett and Nathan Swett, raise and breed red deer and sell premium red deer venison. 

The red deer, or the red stag, is native to Europe. According to the Swetts, in the 1800s the red deer was introduced in New Zealand. There the red deer over-produced over the century and became a nuisance. An “extermination” program was undertaken in the 1980s. That was short-lived when Canada began importing New Zealand’s red deer.

In looks and in lineage, the red deer is the nearest ancestor to the elk in this country. “The meat is delicious, “ says Ken Swett, “and not as gamey as some whitetail venison. It tastes just like our Western elk.”

According to Ken, most of the four generations of Swetts, including George and Henry Swett, ran a dairy farm. When the dairy farm closed some time in the mid 1960s, Ken was intrigued with the idea of raising and breeding red deer and marketing the venison. In the beginning, the Swetts got their starter stock from another red deer farm in New Brunswick. Both Ken and his son Nathan held conventional jobs and ran the farm simultaneously. Nathan the younger, who has had enough of traveling to faraway places, has decided to devote all his time and energies to the deer farm operation. Ash Hill View Farm also operates a large maple syrup business, as well as custom lumber milling.

Ken’s son, Nathan, who is taking over management of the farm from his retirement-age Dad, is emphatic that their operation is licensed and closely regulated by Maine state agriculture and health officials. All of the animals must be tested routinely for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).  At slaughter time, the live deer are transported to a licensed processor for slaughter and packaging. Most of the meat sold is from the cows, which are called “hinds.” Many of the large-racked bulls are kept for breeding and some of the largest are sold to commercial deer-hunting preserves.

Due to the fact that red deer are still wild critters, there is quite an elaborate system involved in “capturing” and transporting the animals that must, by state law, be transported live to the processing facility. The system that the Swetts have devised on their own is a testament to do-it-yourself improvisation and farmer’s ingenuity.

You can see the deer, and the whole operation by appointment.

Cuts of frozen farm venison can be purchased directly from the Swetts and is also sold at various farmer’s markets and state trade shows. Nathan stresses that their venison is not only delicious, but low in fat and high in protein, and very close to organic. Ken jokes, “Didn’t get your deer this fall, Bunky? Come see us at Ash Hill Farms.”

Prices? Venison hamburger is $10 a pound. Stew meat $11 a pound. A rump roast is $14.45. The highly coveted backstrap (tenderloin) is $23 a pound.

An entire critter can be purchased for at-home processing. The price is $3 a pound live weight. The Swetts will field dress and skin your purchase for home processing.

Nathan Swett can be reached at (207) 217-0152. His email is natesw13@gmail.com. The address of the Ash Hill View Deer Farm is 89 Swett Rd., Carmel, Maine.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books. Online purchase information is available at www.sportingjournal.com.

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