Franklin’s ‘Dr. Doolittle': Retired laborer finds job is raising deer
Over the years, Robert Serfass has shot 40 bucks, including one notable run of 13 straight seasons.
But the self-proclaimed “antlerman” and retired laborer from Franklin Township has found even more joy in another hobby involving his beloved deer — farm-raising them.
For several years, he has been helping feed the deer at Chanllow Whitetail Deer Farm here in Carbon County.
Chanllow’s owner, Scott Neeb, raises trophy bucks as well as mouflon, a type of bighorn sheep.
As Neeb’s loyal helper, Serfass has formed a close relationship with “Freaky” and “Caveman,” trophy bucks with massive antlers, but a tame personality.
“I’ll tell you what, we feed them good, because we bring them a lot of good stuff here to feed,” Serfass said.
Their bond is apparent when you see Serfass feeding the bucks as well as the does on the farm. They will eat an apple right out of his mouth.
Neeb taught him how to do it. Now Serfass is so comfortable around the animals, he jokingly calls himself “Dr. Doolittle.”
The outdoors has been a huge part of Serfass’ life. His home is filled with his trophies — antlers, hides and other artifacts. When he worked for a time in Florida, he would collect sand dollars and shells that he makes into his own artworks.
He displays his collection each year at a Sportsman’s Expo held by the local state representative. Last year, he turned heads at the Halloween parade in Lehighton with his antlerman costume.
Admittedly “nosy,” Serfass can strike up a conversation with anyone he meets. One time he met a woman in the pet food aisle at Walmart who told him she lived on a deer farm. It was Neeb’s wife.
“I talk to a lot of people, no matter who they are,” he said. “I went out, and her husband was there. Him and I hit it off like that.”
So the two outdoorsmen started feeding Neeb’s deer together.
Neeb raises his deer “for frame,” meaning he’s more concerned about the size of the antlers than the deer itself. That said, Freaky and Caveman are each over 300 pounds.
They are basically farm animals, bred with other farm-raised deer to try to create the biggest bucks possible. Some of their offspring end up on luxury deer ranches in the Midwest where millionaires pay for the opportunity to hunt them.
They get that big because they’re fed the best food, Neeb said. Apples are a big part of the diet. Neeb will pick berries and plant clover in their enclosures.
“I don’t know many deer farmers who do what we do,” he said. “We go picking sometimes for a whole day.”
Serfass says that making the deer comfortable comes down to a combination of smell and volume level. Before feeding the deer, he rubs his hands in their feed, which is a combination of grain and molasses.
Serfass was at the store one day when he noticed a man with a deer on his license plate. He asked if he had any apple trees — now they pick hundreds of apples there. A similar conversation at a farmers market led to a farmer who gives them chestnuts.
“If you want them to get monstrous, it’s all about feed and genetics,” Neeb said. “You won’t have that type of horn without feeding.”
The antlers are beautiful, but also deadly. They cut them off each year. One of their monster deer ended up dead because he was impaled by another.
Serfass hurt his back pretty bad as he and Neeb tried to load the animal into an ATV, but as soon as he was back on his feet, he was feeding the deer again.
A while back, Serfass stopped hunting does. It’s his thought that killing a doe actually kills a total of three deer. Feeding the deer only makes him more comfortable in that decision.
“I don’t shoot doe anymore,” he said. “I don’t care if they come up and give me a kiss on the ear,” he said.
He says his manner with animals has served him well in life. Dogs don’t bark at him. He recently had a bear cub and mother on his property while he was gardening, and he said the mother started approaching him in a menacing way.
“I grabbed the shovel and said ‘Momma, it’s gonna be you or me’. And she backed up,” he said. “They don’t usually do that.”
Maybe his nickname of “Dr. Doolittle” isn’t so far off.