Germans have a reputation as a nation of guzzling meat-lovers, but growing concerns about the environment and the hormones pumped into modern meat products has prompted growing interest in organically farmed game.
An object of desire for hunters and farmers
Germany and its rich pastures now play host to some 6,000 herds of boar, roe and fallow deer, bison and mouflon, reared by farmers aiming to sell top-quality meats. The eastern village of Calvörde should by the autumn be home to some 200 fallow deer, owned by Wolfgang Eggers, head of the regional federation for game breeders (LWSA) in Saxony-Anhalt.
"We are offering a completely natural product," said Eggers of his association, which includes 28 members who between them farm some 1,750 animals. He said their method of farming respects the environment and doesn't use pesticides or vaccines. The farmer also guarantees that the animal is killed humanely "without stress" in order not to spoil the quality of the meat.
"All the animals introduced by our federation can be found in the wild in the region," he said. "The farmed boars live in the same environment as the wild boars."
A healthy, if expensive, alternative
According to German law, each of the animals has the right to some 1,250 square meters (1,500 square yards) of space, and there is an increasing amount of European aid available to help game farmers start up their business.
Low in fat and high in fiber, game is often recommended for healthy diets. Venison, for example, contains only 3.6 percent fat compared with pork, which has some 30 percent.
Despite the high prices demanded for game, mainly due to the cost of keeping such animals, Eggers said he thinks the meat has a future on the market.
"After mad cow disease, foot-and-mouth and bird flu, people want natural meat," he said, adding that many are prepared to pay between €9 and €11 ($11-14) a kilo (2.2 pounds) for parts of a boar -- almost double the price of pork.
Sausage Queen Gabriele Jahn
"We mostly sell directly to the customer," Eggers said. But some of his production is bought by a butcher in neighboring Magdeburg. One of the members of the federation specializes in meat products, such as salami, sausages and paté, which he sells to restaurants in Hamburg and Berlin. Another member, who runs a hotel in the Harz Forest tourist hot-spot, raises bison, fallow deer and boar, which he transforms into dishes for his clients.
But it would be unrealistic to expect any increase in production in Saxony-Anhalt, said Eggers, for "the pressure on prices would be enormous and production would have to be adjusted to meet the demand."
He is hoping, however, to be able to set up a quality brand name for their products.
"The organic label 'Bioland' already exists for eggs and milk," he said. "Our aim would be to be able to benefit from it in the coming years."
Can you taste the difference?
Eggers added he believes hunters and farmers can live side-by-side without coming to blows.
"Some hunters even come to buy animals from us in order not to lose clients if they return from the hunt empty-handed," he said.
But some people say farmed animals are just not the same as the wild ones.
"The wild boar tastes better and is cheaper," said Dietrich Kramer, head of the local hunters association.
In 2003, farmed animals only represented 4.5 percent of the 78,000 tons of game consumed in Germany, while the spoils of hunts made up some 50 percent. The rest of the game that found its way onto German tables was imported, mainly from New Zealand.