Options on table after red weaners don't sell

High country farmers Julia and Hamish Mackenzie hosted a Deer Industry New Zealand Focus Farm field day at Braemar Station, which was attended by about 60 people, to discuss profitable deer systems in the high country. Photo by Ruth Grundy.
High country farmers Julia and Hamish Mackenzie hosted a Deer Industry New Zealand Focus Farm field day at Braemar Station, which was attended by about 60 people, to discuss profitable deer systems in the high country. Photo by Ruth Grundy.
An unforeseen lack of demand for red weaners last autumn means a high country farming couple will weigh up their options for future deer management policies.

Profitable deer systems in the high country were the topic for discussion at the latest Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ) Focus Farm field day, at Braemar Station.

Owners Hamish and Julia Mackenzie hosted the field day, which was attended by about 60 people. The couple told the group their overall aim was to manage Braemar in a balanced way that gave satisfaction and pleasure, and maintained the extended family's quality of life.

Deer were only a part of their overall system and they wanted the deer system to run productively, efficiently at low cost, and to work in tandem with their other stock policies.

Mr and Mrs Mackenzie are members of the first DINZ advance party group to be formed.

Advance parties are a DINZ initiative to introduce practical, research- backed change to farms to tackle farmer-identified issues and lift profitability.

Mrs Mackenzie said, on Braemar, as in the case of many high country runs, deer had been ''quietly ticking away in the background'' with not too much thought given to them.

That was until they were unable to sell their weaners last autumn, which ''came as a shock''.

It raised questions over future best management, which the couple were working through.

Mr Mackenzie said they had weaned in May, having found out only three weeks earlier they had no buyers, so they were forced to winter the weaners themselves.

His buyers had opted to dairy graze instead of finishing deer.

''Now land use is changing it is a lot harder to find a market for weaners.''

He had been relatively pleased with the way the weaners came through the winter despite nearly 80cm of snow covering the deer paddocks in June.

The couple wanted to make improvements to the breeding programme, look at ways to grow weaners to better weights - simply and at least cost - and to see if finishing would be viable given the environment.

Focus Farm facilitator Nicky Hyslop said analysis showed improving genetics and using quality feed lifted fawning percentages and weaning weights and this would help meet the aim of producing heavier weaners earlier.

There were various management options which showed potential but it was important to take a holistic approach and remember a choice to go in one direction could come at a cost to other parts of the operation, Mrs Hyslop said.

The late feed demand of breeding hinds suited the high country but weaner finishing might not fit the pasture growth curve, which in the high country was '' boom and bust''.

The bottom line had to be driven by how the different stock policies fitted together, she said.

The high country environment had its challenges but recorded experience on Whiterock Station proved it was possible to lift kilograms, at low cost, by improving genetics and feeding regimes in tandem, Mrs Hyslop said.

Mr Mackenzie said while he was able to run 2000 stock units of deer

on the block, he would not consider it viable to replace these with the same stock units of alternative stock.

The couple were ''leaning towards'' weaning earlier and were yet to decide what to do with this year's crop of weaners, he said.

Braemar Station Braemar Station is 4091ha and, of that, 2341ha is developed into paddock blocks.

It sits at 630m above sea level on the eastern side of Lake Pukaki, and summers are dry and winters long and cold (150 days). Average rainfall is about 890mm. The deer block, which has a small proportion of developed paddocks, is 485ha in what the Mackenzies describe as some of Braemar's tougher country.

Mr Mackenzie said there had been wild deer on the block, which led his father, Duncan Mackenzie, to set up the deer farm in the early 1980s.

For this reason he thought they would be well-suited to the country and would ''spread the eggs around baskets''.

Mrs Mackenzie said their herd had a good temperament and was ''nice to manage''.

A deer crush was not needed because the deer were easy to work with and it was important, in the effort to improve genetics, this was not bred out of the herd, she said.

''We want to enjoy farming these deer.''

Historically, they have had 80%-85% fawning from their predominantly red English breeding hinds, weaned at about 50kg-52kg for sale.

Braemar has three other enterprises - a Perendale flock of breeding ewes lambing at 115%-125%, all lambs finished by them; they sell weaners from a predominantly Angus herd of breeding cows; and run an accommodation business.