Ivan and Wilmina Phelps are the proud operators of a European Fallow Deer farm in scenic McCall, Idaho where national forests are the border for many farms. Their story is a tale of hard work, love of the land, care for their animals and survival of the fittest, as the couple recovered from a disaster with help from the Farm Service Agency (FSA).
The Phelps Family raises the deer for venison that they sell at area farmers markets. They also sell to restaurants, stores and direct to consumers. The business started in 1998 with only seven does and one buck. In 2000, the Phelps’ purchased an additional 54 heads and now have a herd of 150.
Gradual expansion has now brought their operation to approximately 50 acres in deer fencing, with seven pastures and some small pens, including a special handling facility, as required by the state.
On June 29, 2010, the McCall area experienced strong windstorms that were unusual for the area. Winds, estimated at 60 to 70 miles per hour, tore through the valley, causing severe damage.
“It came through our farm, uprooting and snapping off over 70 pine trees, many of which were over 100 years old and left a massive mess and huge holes,” Ivan explained. “Most of the damage was to interior fences. But one field, where our un-bred does are kept, had exterior damage. This allowed our herd to escape, but we were able to capture them in two days.”
USDA recognizes that a strong farm safety net is important to sustain the success of American agriculture. To help keep American agriculture profitable, USDA immediately responds to disasters across the country, ranging from record floods, droughts and tropical storms, with direct support, disaster assistance, technical assistance, and access to credit.
The debris from the trees was also scattered throughout the individual pastures, effectively limiting grazing and proper irrigation and destroying several gates and much of the fencing.
The Phelps’ contacted their local FSA office, where they learned about FSA’s Emergency Conservation Program (ECP). Shortly thereafter, their application for emergency cost share under the ECP program was approved.
The Phelps’ had most of the equipment to start on the debris
cleanup. Ivan and his son worked for two months to clear all of the fallen trees and repair the fences and gates. They also had friends who came and helped cut and haul away downed trees. Several of the trees left large root holes that were too big for the Phelps to handle on their own so they had to hire equipment and an operator to clean up the stumps and roots, fill the holes and haul everything away.
“Because we are a small farm, the assistance from the Farm Service Agency was invaluable in helping with the cost of material and the many hours of debris removal,” said Wilmina. “With the dollars we received we were able to get new wire and posts so the work could be completed in a much shorter time frame. We also rotated the deer from field to field more often to allow us to complete the work needed in each area.”
Ivan added, “Without the assistance through the Farm Service Agency we would still be working on the early stages of the wind damage and fencing as the costs and work involved was more than we could handle ourselves.”
Landowners, individuals and communities have endured incredible hardships because of the intensity and volume of natural disasters that have threatened their livelihoods these past few years. The emergency assistance offered by USDA helps to rebuild communities, sustain and spur job creation, and keeps our farmers and ranchers productive and profitable.