The August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm has had deer in a pen on its property for 150 years. But in mid-September, a visitor arrived at the brewery’s enclosure and expressed shock and horror at what she saw.
“The deer down at Schells [sic] Brewery are looking very thin and sick,” the visitor, BriAnna Mueller, posted on Facebook. “Some have visible things wrong. With how much money they make off the beer, you think they could at least get them some good, healthy, fattening food.”
She said the deer had nothing but “dirt and trees” in their enclosure, and that she and fellow visitors had taken the liberty of feeding them over the past few days. She encouraged anyone who saw the post to do the same whenever they got the chance.
Mueller included some photos, showing deer looking a little patchy and disheveled. There were some ribs visible on one of the does.
“These babies are hungry and need our help.”
Plenty of comments thanked Mueller for her vigilance and promised they would bring food soon, or already had. But a few days afterward, the brewery itself took to Facebook, saying concerns had “recently been brought forward” about the wellbeing of the deer. It’s a lengthy post, but the long and short of it is that the deer are not starving. Still, the reality of the situation is only a little less depressing.
The post explains that a couple of factors are making the deer appear a little less hearty. One – it’s almost winter, and the deer are halfway through shedding their summer coats. The old stuff is sloughing away for thicker, darker hair to shield them throughout the cold months.
Two – and this one is the real downer -- Schell’s says that the two does in captivity are pretty old, and suffering from ailments believed to be “incurable.”
“One doe has a potential terminal growth under her left eye, and another is going blind in her right eye,” the post says. “We are deeply saddened by this, no different than watching the cruel aging process of a family pet.”
But the third reason is a little less sad. This has been an unusually good year for fawns. Normally, each doe produces just one baby. But this year, one had twins, and the other had triplets. Schell’s says it’s trying to give all the young ample time to nurse from their mothers before sending a few to a certified deer farm, and nursing takes a lot out of the moms in the meantime.
Still, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources stopped by, as did an animal control officer from the New Ulm Police Department. Cpl. Keith Anderson said in a report obtained by the Star Tribune that the deer looked “healthy but slightly skinny.”
“…It was my opinion that with the does still nursing and the fact that with the deer were currently being de-wormed, could be causing the weight issues,” he wrote. “I also noted that the buck had a very sizable rack of antlers, and that would not be the situation if the animal were not being properly cared for.”
In the post, Schell’s insisted the deer live on a proper diet of commercial deer food, grains, alfalfa, and de-wormer feed. And with that in mind, staff ask visitors to please stop throwing half-eaten garbage at them.
“Since the outcry on social media, people have been coming to the park and throwing items in the pen that deer cannot consume,” the post says. “Items we’ve had to pull out of their feeding area include orange peels, plastic, paper, chicken meat with bones, mushrooms, and a beef burrito still wrapped in plastic.”
Every time a random burrito ended up in the pen, the post says, staff would have to risk life and limb to go get it out. That’s no small task. It’s rutting season, and the rowdier bucks have been known to gore staff in the past. It’s probably better, staff told various news outlets, for guests not to try to feed them at all.
Still, Schell’s seemed to recognize all this hubbub was coming from good intentions.
“Again, we appreciate and thank the visitor for her concern,” the post said. “We will continue to work to provide the best like for the deer at the August Schell Brewing Company, the same way we have for the last 159 years.”
Some of the commenters were a little less charitable.
“Some people are just assholes and like to stir shit up,” one said.
“I simply detest nosy busy-bodies,” another said.
Meanwhile, Mueller has updated her own post. She said the deer started to look a little better when last she visited them, but she's still skeptical that Schell’s is giving them enough to eat. That said, she asked the people feeding them to give them something other than chicken or pre-packaged burritos.