Weaning timing crucial to deer profitability

Research has shown weaning management can have a pivotal effect on deer farming profitability, AgResearch Invermay scientist Dr Geoff Asher says.

Dr Geoff Asher spoke to a group of about 60 at a Deer Industry New Zealand Focus Farm field day at Braemar Station about what AgResearch studies into lactation and weaning management of farmed deer had revealed.

Weaning could take place pre-rut (3 to 4 months of age), in February and March before the onset of winter or post-rut (6 to 7 months of age), or animals could be left to wean naturally - not usually an option for farmed deer, Dr Asher said.

Each option had its advantages and disadvantages, or ''trade-offs''.

The trade-off was between which system worked best for a property and how it might affect the biological performance of the animal, he said.

Post-rut weaning placed extra stress on the hind because the longer lactation period compromised body condition.

There was a flow-on effect because body condition had a ''big effect'' on when the hind would conceive, he said.

However, early weaning could adversely affect the growth rate of calves.

But it would also mean the hind would conceive earlier and likely produce a bigger calf earlier.

To counteract the disadvantages of weaning early it was important to minimise the stress on calves and hinds.

Dr Asher advised deer farmers to consider how to reduce stress in handling and how best to maintain condition through winter using top-quality feed.

Any system needed careful planning and there might be a need to forfeit a year's potential in order to set up an appropriate cycle, he said.

''There is no firm and fast rule about which style is appropriate,'' Dr Asher said.