When I first arrived at Straits State Park and started exploring around my new home territory, I drove by the St. Ignace Deer Ranch. Since deer are my all-time favorite animals, I wasn’t about to pass up this chance to get up close and personal with these beautiful and gentle creatures.
My timing was especially good because I had the chance to meet the owners, Chuck and Connie Cullip.
They bought the farm only a few months ago from the original owners who were retiring after having run it for 23 years. Even though they own the Feed Station in St. Ignace, they had always enjoyed visiting the ranch and didn’t want to see it close. This makes the 4th owners for the Deer Ranch, which has been open continuously for 61 years – I’m so glad they preserved this tradition for the community and visitors!
I was tickled in more ways than one by the fawns that were still restricted to the barn – so thrilled that they allowed me to go inside with them!
Each of these 3 fawns (Nicole, Sarah and Kelly) have a twin and their mothers are in the outdoor pens. These 3 were chosen at the suggestion of the previous owner so they would be more tame and friendly. They were even “lap deer” for the first week when they were being kept in the owners’ home!
The white doe on the right is named Jamie and she is not a true albino, but is a “white whitetail.” The buck on the left is a true albino because he has no pigmentation in his eyes. As you can see, the horns do not develop as normally or symmetrical as a regular whitetail, either. Also as is typical, he has very poor eyesight because albinos have no pigment to reflect the light in their eyeball. And since albinos don’t have melanin (a natural sunscreen that also permits vision to fully mature), he also gets sunscreen applied to him, as do the other albinos.
The chances of getting a true albino is one in 30,000, and while albinos here typically live for 7-8 years, in the wild they’d typically only get half that due to their inability to camouflage themselves.
These visitors seem to have enjoyed the uniqueness of these creatures, too!
But I really got a kick out of this little boy. He was having so much fun feeding them carrot sticks and then sincerely apologized when he ran out.
This area is where the deer like to play “hide & seek” – you’ll see nothing but green but then when people walk by, you start seeing ears or heads pop up and if someone on the path has food, they’ll definitely come check that out!
Bronco, the buck shown here, was born May 6, 2005 and was a bottlefed baby. His sign ratted him out as a “problem child” when he was living in the gift shop and liked to pull tee shirts off the shelves and price tags off anything he could reach. As is traditional at the Deer Ranch, whenever a deer is born, a child who comes to visit that day has the chance to name them, so that’s how Bronco got his.
I thought it was especially nice of Coco to come up and pose so nicely next to the sign that told about her. Her dad is one of the albino bucks. As a newborn, she was bottle fed and lived in the store during the day and the owner’s house at night.
There are several of these type of informational signs with “fun facts” to inform visitors about the deer residents here and also answers some of the most frequently asked questions about the farm.
One of the most frequently expressed concerns is that the deer would be better in the wild instead of being penned up. Here, all the deer have been born in captivity, so they are much safer here since they would know nothing of the wild life and probably would not survive long.
Another sign explained that whitetails have a potential life span of 11-12 years but seldom live longer than 5-1/2. Free-roaming deer often succumb to disease, are hit by cars, killed by predators, or shot by hunters. The deer here are far more likely to live to see their oldest potential age since they are protected and provided for so well.
But the best reason I saw listed besides the practical is that “they are all named and some will come when called; and they all have a different personality and are part of our family.”
So I encourage you to support the efforts of this family and go visit the Deer Ranch when visiting St. Ignace!