Since 2013, two herds of deer have replaced the cows on Sandra and Sébastien Maillard’s farm.
With his majestic antlers and beautiful clear eyes, Dano the stag takes pride in the Freiburg countryside. By mid-September, he is at his best. “The beard on his torso is starting to grow well and then he is magnificent,” observes Sébastien Maillard, looking at this animal that he adores and that is very sociable when there is dry bread around. But the slab will start at the end of September and he will lose 30 kilos. For three weeks, his hormones will be “times 1000” and he will only think about seducing the deer to the point of not eating any more.
“We still told ourselves that it was a shame to no longer operate the area. And after seeing a herd of deer in Marsens, our decision was made.
The superb 11-year-old male owes his presence on the Planches farm to the desire of Sébastien Maillard and his wife Sandra to replace the cows with other animals on their farm. In fact, after the death of Sébastien’s father, Sébastien went to work elsewhere (at the Servion Zoo, then a postman for thirteen years at Liebherr) to pay for the farm’s renovation. “We still told ourselves that it was a shame to no longer operate the area. And after seeing a herd of deer in Marsens, our decision was made.
The beautiful and the docile
In 2011, the couple equipped the parks and welcomed the first animals – 56 heads from France – in 2013. Seven years later, 200 deer divided into two herds graze peacefully on Fribourg’s grass. “Dano’s herd comes from a breeder who relies primarily on pretty, well-rounded females. He selected them for this. The other herd, dominated by a younger deer that has not yet been baptized, is more docile. Deer often come and kindly push me to ask for some more dry bread.”
Maillard’s business has been doing well for two years. “These beasts are great, smiles the enthusiast. They live outdoors all year, they eat grass in the summer and corks in the silo in the winter, they never get sick – we catch them once a year to ring and deworm them, but that’s all – and on top of that we have a fertility rate of almost 100% !”
The horns fall off every year
The season is therefore punctuated by love in autumn and births that take place in mid-May. The whole herd takes care of the young, but the young only suckle the mother. And, not necessarily known, males lose their daggers (short horns) or their horns once a year. “There are very few losses with the deer, celebrates Sébastien Maillard, who kills his animals himself to avoid the slightest stress. The meat is too thin (note: 3% fat, versus 31% for pork)we make dry sausages and terrines with less noble pieces, we sell the wood (read on the side) and a friend comes to get the skins to tan.”
The clientele of Ferme des Planches is 90% individuals – “and I believe there are more Waldensians than Friburgers who visit our self-service!” She comes both to buy local products and to visit the places where we find dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits, goats and turkeys. “Our cats are excellent at public relations,” laughs Sébastien Maillard as a ball of black and white fur basks in the sun, its paw on the thigh of a young visitor. “Before Covid, I made many visits to the farm where I explain how our animals live and which end with a tasting. I think I’ll do it again because I love it. It’s really my thing!”
Teresa Courvoisier is editor of the culture and magazine section of 24 heures. After nearly 20 years in sports journalism, she specializes in portraiture and social affairs.