Fisher FFA member's state award-winning project 'deer' to his heart

Will Shook raises deer on the family farm in rural Dewey.

RURAL DEWEY — FFA members’ chapter projects often focus on areas such as corn, soybeans, maybe wheat; or livestock such as cattle, hogs or even poultry.

Will Shook’s project is more unique. Shook has seven deer he has raised on his family farm in rural Dewey.

The junior at Fisher High School began raising deer about six years ago after he learned a family friend had been raising the animals.

“I thought it was really interesting,” Shook said. “I wanted to get one myself. My parents (Kristi and Randy Shook) looked into it and found it’s very expensive. They told me ‘no.’”

But Shook learned a breeder out of St. Joseph, Cliff Shipley, had a deer that he didn’t know who the father was, so Shook was able to obtain that deer. The identity of the deer’s parents is important “because you want to know what their genetics are and you can look at their bloodlines,” he said.

In the white tail deer industry, it is important for the bucks to grow large antlers.

“The antlers is what you sell them for,” Shook said. “It’s like a show thing. You have antler contests.”

Each year the bucks shed their antlers in the winter and begin to grow new ones. The bucks use their antlers to fight each other for dominance “so they can get the set of does that they want,” Shook said.

None of Shook’s deer have matured to the point where they could compete in an antler contest.

It’s easy to get close to the deer, he said, especially the doe fawns, which he bottle feeds

“You really get attached to them because you spend so much time with them,” he said.

The bucks? Not so much. He leaves them to be fed by their mother.

“The does, you want them to be calm so you can go up to them so can touch them when they have their fawns in the spring. The bucks, you want to keep them more wild so you (can) sell them to a preserve (for hunting). Also if they’re more calm during breeding, it’s not good,” Shook said.

Shook has one doe that is friendlier than the rest. It likes to nuzzle up to him.

“She’s one that I got from a family friend,” he said. “That family does a lot of racing, and there is always a lot of people around, so she likes the attention. The other two does I have aren’t as friendly. They will come up to you if you have animal crackers.”

Shook said none of the bucks has gotten aggressive toward him. They will run away when he comes into the pen.

Shook’s daily routine with the deer involve filling their feeders each morning, giving them fresh water, and lately he has been checking the bucks’ antlers to see how they are growing, “and just overall check and see if they’re healthy and none are limping.”

The Shooks generally breed one or two does each year. They are sedated and bred via artificial insemination.

Shook’s work on the family farm has given him something to keep busy with during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Shooks, who farm 600 acres, also have about 25 head of cattle.

“They’re a lot of work,” Shook said.

As for the stay-at-home order, “for me it isn’t horrible. The only bad part is not being able to see my friends. I definitely keep busy living on a farm.”

Shook enjoys working with the deer. They’re more fun to work with because they are so unique, he said.

Shook is president of the Fisher FFA chapter and is Section 17 sentinel.

“Our chapter’s been very accomplished, especially the last few years with Sophie (Hortin) being state president. We’ve had very successful people. We’ve had a lot of different students compete at state in poultry a couple of years in a row, placing in the top 10.

“We’ve had people compete and go to the district level for public speaking. Also this year we had four people compete in the proficiency competition.”

Shook advanced to state in proficiency, where he won in the category of Specialty Animal Production. Three other Fisher members advanced to district — Lacey Cotter, Felicity Schaffer and Jacob Hansens, with Schaffer finishing as runnerup.

Shook hopes to study ag business through the Parkland College Pathways program, then attend the University of Illinois in an ag-related field.