“Nobody is talking about how this upcoming election is going to effect small businesses like ours,” says Judi Collora, 61, the co-founder and co-owner of Mrs. Doe Pee’s Buck Lures in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. If Obama is reelected in November, she says, it could wreak havoc on the deer urine industry.
Not directly, perhaps. But the dealers who buy and sell her product—pure, undiluted whitetail buck urine used as hunting lures—have been hit hard by the unstable economy under Obama’s administration. “In 2010, around 25 percent of archery shops closed their doors,” Collora says. “If Obama gets elected again, I think it’s going to happen again. They won’t be able to afford the taxes.” And when those businesses fail, she says, the deer urine business fails right along with them.
Despite an uncertain future, business of late has been good for Mrs. Collora and her urine farmer husband, Sam Collora, also 61. “We started out with just a few dealers, and now we’re nationwide,” he says. “We sell all over the country.” He won’t say how many gallons of urine they sell each year—”It’s a trade secret,” he claims—but their urine supply comes from a year-round working farm of 130 deer, 17 elk and, by his count, “seven or eight bulls.”
Deerfarmer.com, an online information network for deer and elk farmers, estimates that a typical urine farmer stands to gross “$93,440 to $303,680 per deer per year.” If that math is correct—and the Colloras will neither confirm nor deny those numbers—then the annual profit for Mrs. Doe Pee’s Buck Lures is likely in the multimillions.
Mrs. Collora, who works primarily in sales and bookkeeping for the company, says rumors of a urine gold rush are overrated. “I can tell you that we sell hundreds of gallons of urine every year,” she admits, but the market is unpredictable at best. “A few years ago, we entered into a contract to collect a certain amount of urine for a big company between January and May,” she says. “Well, guess what? Deer don’t urinate near as much in January as they do in August. During the first few months, we were panicking. We didn’t have nearly enough to meet their quota.”
The key to success as a urine farmer, she says, is understanding that different seasons bring a fluctuating urine supply. “It all depends on how thirsty the deer are,” she says. “In the summer when it’s hot, they drink way more than in the winter when it’s cold.” And the less they drink, the less they pee, and the less profit a urine farmer makes.
The Collora family business began in 1987, when Mrs. Collora, then an orthopedic nurse, bought a deer for her husband, a plant manager at a steel-manufacturing facility. The deer was intended as a live model for Mr. Collora’s amateur taxidermy hobby, but he began collecting its urine as a hunting lure and selling it to friends. When the demand exceeded his supply, the couple officially launched Mrs. Doe Pee’s in 1991, opening their first urine farm.
It was a difficult market to break at first, especially with so few hunting shop owners willing to stock urine. “A lot of stores did not want to carry refrigerated urine,” says Mrs. Collora. “Especially if they also sold food or drinks.” But the industry has evolved in recent years, she says, and now with many stores having multiple smaller beverage refrigerators, where the deer urine can be safely and clearly separated from the Cherry Coke and Red Bull, they’re more willing to sell their products.
The process of farming urine is not nearly as disgusting as it sounds. “It’s not like a hog confinement,” Mr. Collora says. “It’s not one of those nasty, awful things.” The collection room—a two-story barn where the deer stay at night, allowing the urine to “drip through grates” from the top floor into waiting vats—has stainless steel floors that are hosed daily with high-pressure hoses. Every morning, the urine is taken into a walk-in refrigerator and bottled. No preservatives are used, because Mr. Collora believes that any chemicals would destroy the pheromones that make deer urine so invaluable as a hunting lure. “The pheromones are everything,” he says. “Without that, the stuff is useless. It’ll still look like urine and smell like urine, but it won’t have that pheromone-drawing quality that the fresh stuff does. At that point, it’s just … urine.”
Their most popular item, Mrs. Doe Pee’s Special Blend—which sells for $40.99 per 8-ounce bottle—is more commonly known as “estrus urine.” It’s gathered during the rut (breeding season), when a doe is at the peak of sexual excitement. “It’s kind of like having a female doe in heat, and the male from down the road just shows up,” explains Mr. Collora. “She didn’t send him a postcard saying, ‘Hey buddy, I’m ready.’ There’s a scent hormone that’s released into the air, and the male will track that hot doe down and find her.” The Special Blend takes that horny hormone, an odor that exists in urine, and packages it in a bottle.
Thanks to the company’s new freeze-drying technology—they own the patent on freeze-drying urine for the hunting industry—the arousing Special Blend scent can be used year-round. But will the deer come running, even when it’s not mating season? Mrs. Collora thinks so: “If you and your wife make a deal in February that you’re going to have sex again in November,” she explains, “and she comes along and says, ‘How about if we have sex in October?’ Are you going to turn her down? No, of course not. She will have 100 percent of your attention.” That, she says, is the promise of Mrs. Doe Pee’s Special Blend. “Hunting with estrus, you get 100 percent of a deer’s attention.” And then, when they come out looking for love, you shoot them.
The one question they get asked most often, Mr. Collora says, is how they know the best time to harvest estrus urine. “Hey, it ain’t rocket science,” he laughs. “You put a buck in there. When he starts riding the doe, and she lets him, they’re in heat. When they’re done, you collect their urine. That’s our whole business model.”
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on the Bloomberg Businessweek website.)