The first licence to farm deer in New Zealand was issued in 1970, so the deer industry is relatively young compared to the rest of New Zealand agriculture. However, New Zealand has taken a lead in farming venison and is the number one source for farm-raised venison worldwide, with around 1800 farmers farming approximately 870,000 deer.
The deer industry has been declining in size over the last decade, from farming 1,396,023 deer in 2007 to 852,919 deer in 2016, a drop of around 40 percent. The main reasons have been due to a reduction in herd numbers when returns for venison and velvet were relatively poor, the impact of the global financial crisis, and very strong competition for land use from dairy cows and dairy support.
However, the industry is confident that it has turned a corner with the deer industry’s Passion to Profit (P2P) strategy – a seven-year programme from 2015, supported by the Primary Growth Partnership fund, to improve the profitability of the deer industry. This appears to be having an effect with a reduction in the hind slaughter, a pick-up in the 2016–17 season of the venison price to $8.50/kg and an increase in processing plant carcase weights, which in part can be attributed to on-farm productivity gains.
Another positive sign was the reduction in the gap between off-season and peak pre-Christmas chilled prices, showing that, along with the shortfall in supply to growing new markets and the traditional markets, overseas marketing programmes were starting to have an influence.(FOB – Free On Board)
New Zealand exports a range of products derived from farmed deer:
- Venison is the main export for the industry, earning around 70–80 percent of the industry revenues;
- Hides and deer leather are exported to manufacturers of high-quality leather goods;
- Deer co-products include items for medicinal use in oriental medicine, as well as the bones and fat from deer;
- Deer velvet is a valuable export, with many farmers specialising in this product. Volumes produced have increased in recent years with the additional production finding growing demand in the healthy foods sector in Korea, and also beginning in China. YE Sept 2016 indicates export revenues in excess of $43M.
Deer produced for the spring chilled venison market traditionally earn farmers a premium of up to $1.50/kg from the end of August to early November.
Most of this venison is shipped by sea to continental Europe for the traditional game season, which starts in September and ends at Christmas. Traditionally the schedule starts falling in November, reaching a low in March, with most venison bought at this time needing to be frozen and stored until the next game season. A new pricing pattern has recently become evident as supplies reduce and the industry begins its rebuild, with extended high prices in the mid-high $8.20–8.70/kg range reaching right though summer and into autumn. This is less than a $0.80/kg difference between the end of the chilled season and the traditional frozen market.
The current higher-than-usual prices are a result of a combination of factors: product shortages in market, the reduced kill (production is down 17 percent year on year) and firm demand out of North American and European markets driven by exporters’ focus on market diversification and continued demand for premium grass-fed meat.
More than 90 percent of the New Zealand deer industry’s products are exported, so the value of the New Zealand dollar and exchange rates also have an impact on pricing.
Exporters and Deer Industry NZ are working to develop year-round markets for chilled Cervena™ venison as part of the P2P strategy, by correcting the mismatch between venison production and demand in traditional markets, while progressively developing new markets that demand quality venison at chilled prices all year round.
In 2017, the US has overtaken Germany as the single largest market for venison by volume and is the largest market for NZ chilled venison and the best-paying market for NZ chilled venison (mainly Cervena™). The US is also proving to be an important and growing market for NZ venison used in processed meat products (burgers, sausages and high-end pet food), for which it pays an appropriate premium.
Of all the commercially farmed species, deer are the most recently domesticated and as such can sometimes be problematic when mustering, although this is not always the case.
Deer are very different to sheep and cattle when it comes to temperament and behaviour. Deer farmers need to understand deer behaviour and reactions and how to minimise stress on the farm and in the yards.
The main aim of efficient deer handling and management is to handle deer without causing undue stress to the animals. Great stockmanship of deer is the most important aspect of good deer management. A capable stockperson will be able to muster and yard deer without causing stress at any time (within reason). A good understanding of the distinctive behaviours and traits of deer when designing, planning or managing a deer farm will also optimise deer movement, and minimise deer stress.
The predominant feed source for deer is permanent pasture (ryegrass/white clover). Winter or summer crops (swedes, rape, turnips and fodder beet), lucerne, silage, grain or palm kernel expeller (PKE) are used to improve the performance at different times of the year. Seasonal pasture curves and pasture quality vary widely throughout New Zealand.
Apart from farm systems, which are discussed in the next section, other issues to be aware of when handling deer are related to:
- Age – young deer that have been freshly weaned are to be handled with care. Health-related issues associated with stress can be common in weaner deer, so it is vital for weaners to be handled with minimum stress.
- Species – red deer are the predominant species in New Zealand. Wapiti deer are fewer but much larger than red deer, and have some behavioural idiosyncrasies that differ to red deer.
- Various stages within a deer farm’s management calendar of operations, such as preparing deer for transport. In recent times the transport requirements from many of our importing countries have become increasingly complex and are highly likely to impact on the way we go about transporting deer in the future.
The Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ) website has a wide range of useful information and resources for the farming of deer.
Infrastructure costs will be influenced by whether existing assets that are already on the farm can be used or modified for use. Things to think about when designing a deer farm so as to minimise stress include:
- Well-constructed fences designed specifically for deer.
- Good paddock layout and well-positioned races to facilitate movement of deer, and maximise feed utilisation.
- Well-designed sheds and yards that allow movement and handling of deer to occur efficiently and with minimum stress to handler and animals.
- Restraint systems that control animals safely to facilitate various deer treatments.
Well-planned and properly constructed deer fencing has a large impact on the efficiency of deer handling. The long-term benefits of ease of management from good fencing is realised with a reduction in time taken on fence maintenance, as well as reduced personnel time chasing deer around due to inadequate fencing. Deer fencing is inherently expensive to construct due to the quantity of materials used. Poorly managed or handled deer can be extremely hard on fences, and often cause damage to posts, gates and netting.
It is important to consider the layout of a property carefully, making sure that paddocks and races are suitably set up to facilitate deer mob movements and handling between paddocks and into the deer shed. The key to a well set up deer property is a well-positioned central race.
Paddocks should be laid out to take advantage of natural shelter, or topography, e.g. paddocks that are to be used for velveting stags should be located in an area where there is no visual or downwind contact from females.
Fencing off the corners of the paddocks and narrowing down the entrance to gateways can improve stock movements and make mustering easier. The fenced-off corners are also an ideal site to plant a few shelter or shade trees, and assist in funnelling deer to the entrance of the gate.
Gates out of the paddock and into the race should be positioned so they are obvious to the mob of deer trotting down the fence-line. The best position for the gate is usually where the deer naturally gather when mustered.
The shed and yarding system on a deer farm must be designed and constructed to provide a safe and practical work environment for both animals and the operator. Many deer are inherently flighty animals, especially when stressed, and can become unpredictable when handled. It is therefore important that sheds, yards, and races are designed to eliminate the chance of injuries.
Shelter is important for deer, especially young stock. Planted shelter between paddocks also provides a visual barrier between adjoining paddocks of animals.
An excellent handling guide for deer farmers has been produced by Worksafe in consultation with the industry body, DINZ. A summary is on the Safer Farms website: visit http://saferfarms.org.nz/guides/safe-deer-handling/
The full document, which essentially describes the basics of good deer farming practices with animal handling in mind, can be downloaded at:
Deer have specific natural needs and behaviours, and if incorrectly managed, can threaten the quality of water and soil. Undesirable behaviour includes excessive pacing, wallowing, and digging in soils. These can cause erosion, compaction and pugging of soils, and the consequent runoff of nutrient, sediment and coliforms can result in contamination of waterways.
Applying good deer farm management with the Land and Environment Plan (LEP) template enables the following factors to be fully integrated with the profitable deer farming business:
- assessment of risks
- evaluation of land capability
- paddock conditions
- riparian management
- use of prudent wintering feed systems
- scheduling of environmental protections and mitigations.
Undertaking LEP therefore provides confidence that the deer farming operation is sustainably using its water and soil resources, and can also be used to provide assurance of sustainable practice to consumers.
The NZ Deer Farmers’ Landcare Manual is a practical guide to best landcare practice for deer farmers and can be found on the Deer NZ website.
The profitability of deer farming varies greatly from farm to farm, and even between farms operating similar stocking policies in the same district. Lower profitability is usually the end result of lower productivity.
The P2P strategy aims to help farmers improve their farming systems so they become more profitable, enabling the deer industry as a whole to be more competitive with alternative land uses.
Over the past two years, significant work has been done internationally, marketing Cervena™ and New Zealand-farmed venison to differentiate it from non-farmed venison. Work has also commenced introducing chilled Cervena™ to the off-peak European market to broaden returns across the full year, rather than solely peaking during the traditional European game season.
Despite the drop in NZ deer numbers, returns for venison have remained relatively strong over the last ten years, ranging around the $7.00/kg mark. With less reliance on the traditional European game season and increasing growth in the United States and non-European markets, the future of the venison market is looking positive.
Deer Industry New Zealand
Tony Pearse, Producer Manager
PO Box 10702, Wellington 6143
Level 5, 154 Featherston Street, Wellington 6011
T: 04 472 5549
Deer Facts – Deer Industry New Zealand (http://deernz.org/deer-facts#.WZp3MCgjFpg)
The key elements of success and failure in the NZ Venison Industry 2008, Lincoln University (http://deernz.org/about-deer-industry/nz-deer-industry/deer-industry-statistics/external-resources-nz-deer-industry#.WZp3figjFpg)