Scraggly and unkempt though they may be, the deer living in August Schell Brewing Company's deer park in New Ulm, Minn. are not starving or neglected.
That's according to the New Ulm animal control officer called to do a welfare check on the animals last week. A concerned citizen posted on social media that the deer looked thin and unhealthy and asked fellow animal-lovers to bring food for the buck, does and fawns.
Unfortunately, said Schell's marketing manager Leigh Wendinger, that social media post prompted a number of guests to throw trash and other inedible items -- "orange peels, plastic, paper, chicken meat with bones, mushrooms and a beef burrito still wrapped in plastic" -- into the enclosure where the deer roam.
"This presents a new set of dangers," the brewery wrote on its Facebook page recently, "as employees and family members of the August Schell Brewing Company need to go in to remove the inedible trash. The bucks are in the heat of the rut at this time and are very aggressive."
The post noted that former brewery president Al Marti was, in fact, gored by a buck in the early 1960s. Deer have been kept on the grounds of the Schell's brewery for 159 years, since founder August Schell came to America from Germany.
Rutting, or mating season, is not only a dangerous time to encounter a buck, it also explains the appearance of the deer.
"This concern comes every year as the deer are preparing for winter and they begin to shed their coats," the Schell's Facebook post explained. "Similar to the shedding process of a family pet, they gradually grow thicker, darker guard hairs which can cause them to appear a bit disheveled but is completely normal and mimic what happens in the wild."
This reproductive season was also particularly fruitful: Two deer gave birth to a set of twins and triplets, respectively. The does are still nursing the fawns, which makes them thinner than usual.
"We maintain a constant flow of feed to replenish the nutrients they expend while nursing their young," said the brewery.
The deer are also reaching the upper threshold of their lifespan. Many of the deer are between 10 and 12 years of age, which is old for the species.
"We have two aging does in our herd, both suffering from ailments we believe to be incurable. One doe has a potential terminal growth under her left eye, and another is going blind in her right eye. We are deeply saddened by this, no different than watching the cruel aging process of a family pet."
On Sept. 23, Cpl. Keith Anderson of the New Ulm Police Department was dispatched to inspect the living conditions at the deer park. According to his report, the animals appeared to be "healthy but slightly skinny."
"Having knowledge of deer from my 40 years of hunting and the fact that I have experience with sheep, a very close relative of deer, it was my opinion that with the does still nursing and the fact that the deer were currently being de-wormed, could be causing the weight issues," Anderson wrote. "I did note and [Schell's representative Jodi] Marti did point out the fact that there was very little grass inside the pen. It should also be noted that I did observe at least one mineral block available to the deer and Marti stated that there was another mineral block inside the pen. I also noted that the buck had a very sizeable rack of antlers and that would not be the situation if the animal were not being properly cared for."
Since the inspection, Schell's said they've reseeded the grass in the pen. The brewery also has asked guests to refrain from feeding the deer altogether -- even if they've had permission to offer the deer healthy treats in the past.
"We thank everyone who is concerned and caring for the deer," said Leigh Wendinger. "Their hearts are in the right place but they might be causing more harm than good."