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
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
''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
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
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
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.