In beautiful unspoilt countryside in Co Sligo, part of the 500 acre estate of Coopershill House (see entry) is devoted to farming a herd of fallow deer. Lindy and Brian O’Hara began rearing deer in 1995.
Now, having handed on the running of the Georgian country house to their son Simon, Lindy manages the deer enterprise. It is now gaining wide recognition, including an Irish Food Writers' Guild Good Food Award in 2011, when guild members were cited as "deeply impressed by the quality, complex flavour, tenderness and presentation of Cooperhill House Venison".
The deer lead a natural free range life, grazing on hilly land where the soil is either marley (clay) or a little boggy. It has been in grassland for fifty years, encouraging a variety of natural herbage which contributes to the fine flavour of the venison. Remaining outside to give birth from May to July, the does suckle their young who are not weaned until late November. The does are brought into shelter in December when they are fed silage made on the farm. The male fallow deer (called a buck not a stag) has 25 does at his disposal and, keeping to the natural cycle, mates with them in autumn and early winter.
Until fairly recently, the deer had to be transported hundreds of miles to Cork to an abattoir licensed for game, and the venison, sold as whole carcasses, was exported to Europe. Lindy then persuaded Gerry Byrne who runs a local abattoir in Grange, North Sligo to apply for a game license, and this means a short, less stressful journey, and maturing and butchering is done by an expert. Selected cuts are sent to expert smoker Ed Hick (a previous Irish Food Writers' Guild award winner).
Offered in a wide range of cuts - the O'Haras are, quite rightly, especially proud of their speciality, smoked haunch of venison - you can buy anything up to a full carcass, freezer-ready.
The price list is on the website and there's a recipe booklet to help home cooks get the best from this delicious and versatile meat.
Animal welfare is a high priority and farm visits are welcome by arrangement - and the meat is available to purchase direct from the farm, from selected retailers and from Sligo famers' market.