Deer farmers attending a recent field day at Invermay
were urged to recognise they were ''at the Mecca'' for deer
The AgResearch campus was looked on as the ''fountain of all
knowledge'' and farmers should realise that and the prospect
it might not continue, Prof Frank Griffin, of the University
of Otago, said.
Prof Griffin, who has collaborated with researchers at
Invermay for three decades on solving animal health problems
in the deer industry, has previously expressed major concerns
about AgResearch's decision to cut jobs from Invermay.
Speaking at the field day, organised by the Otago branch of
the Deer Farmers Association and AgResearch's deer team, Prof
Griffin said the New Zealand deer farming sector had led the
It was very sad to think it could be the last chapter of deer
farming in New Zealand ''because you guys have written the
It had been an ''absolutely amazing'' story and all of it was
underpinned largely by the science that came out of Invermay.
The sad reality was that there might not be anyone working in
animal health in three years' time, but New Zealand could not
afford to not have a workforce involved in animal health and
reproduction, he said.
He had some ''real concerns'' about the future, saying there
had to be some continuity. There could not be a ''huge
hiatus'' in knowledge and farmers must remember that research
was not a cost, but an investment.
Deer Industry New Zealand chief executive Dan Coup said
restoring profitability and confidence back into venison
farming was something both he and DINZ's board had been
entirely focused on.
The organisation believed its main markets in Europe had hit
the bottom of the cycle and would be heading up over the next
few years, while there was also optimism over the opening of
DINZ had a clear vision of how it believed it could ''shift
the game'' for the deer industry and that was embodied in the
Passion 2 Profit strategy.
The ambition was to get away from the situation where it went
through cycles that all agricultural commodities went
through, positioning itself in a way where it was not quite
so susceptible, while also differentiating the product from
those of competitors.
Government funding for the strategy was being sought through
the Primary Growth Partnership and DINZ was part-way through
writing a business case to submit.
There was a declining hind base in New Zealand, with the herd
level heading downwards, although not alarmingly so, he said.
Giving an update on the deer progeny test, Dr Geoff Asher, of
AgResearch, said it was ''work in progress''.
The test involved 800 hinds across two farms in any one year,
with three properties involved - the Invermay deer farm,
White Rock Station in the Rangitata Gorge, and Haldon Station
in the Mackenzie Basin.
There were five aims - to encourage and improve sire linkage
between herds, a platform to evaluate breeding values across
breeds (red deer/wapiti), evaluate new traits for
optimisation of selection goals, a starting point for
evaluation of maternal traits, and establish a
well-phenotyped population for future genomic tools.
The third and final crop of progeny would be slaughtered late
this year, which would give the appropriate numbers of
progeny/sires for a full genetic analysis of new traits in
2014-15, such as carcass traits, meat sensory traits,
temperament and CarLA (carbohydrate larval antigen).
There were three components to carcass quality traits - the
total quantity and distribution of muscle in the carcass; the
sensory attributes of the venison (such as taste, tenderness,
juiciness, colour stability); and co-product quality
phenotypes, such as hides, tails and pizzles.
Multiple carcass measurements were being recorded at Alliance
Group's Makarewa plant to find those that best described the
carcass quality phenotype.
Assessment of VIAscan in-line measurement of carcass quality
was under way.
Venison sensory attributes were being evaluated by a trained
taste panel at Alliance Group, with year one progeny
completed and year two under way.
Full genetic analysis of carcass/meat traits required the
addition of year three progeny data this year.
Dr Asher said parasites were a ''sleeping giant'' within the
deer industry, and drench resistance was looming in the near
distance. There had been a very heavy reliance on
One option was to select for host resistance/resilience to
parasites but that required a tool to measure the appropriate
phenotype. Faecal egg/larval counts were ''highly
unreliable'' in deer, he said.
CarLA, a salivary antibody, might be a good measure of
increasing resistance to worm challenge, he said.
It was being routinely measured in the deer progeny test
progeny and initial analysis would be undertaken this year to
investigate the underlying genetics of CarLA production.
Temperament was ''an interesting one''. If he asked 30 deer
farmers how important temperament was, 30 would say very, but
ask them what they would select for and he would get ''30
different answers'', he said.
What the actual traits were that needed to be measured needed
to be defined, such as around reducing aggression,
nervousness or flightiness.
Various in-yard scoring systems had been developed that were
being routinely applied to deer progeny test progeny and
The heritability of those traits was likely to be very low.
The environment had a big effect on deer behaviour, he said.
Maternal traits were something the industry needed to ''get
its head around'', he said.
Genetics never stood still and new technologies would open up
new opportunities to accurately measure phenotypes of
productive importance, such as disease resistance.
The ''genomic revolution'' might one day provide the
technological platforms to identify specific genes of
importance, he said.
Dr Colin Mackintosh said there had probably been too heavy a
reliance on anthelmintics, particularly the likes of
pour-ons, over the past 20 to 30 years.
Other alternatives needed to be looked at to reduce reliance.
It was inevitable that resistance problems were going to be
encountered, just as in sheep and cattle.
Anthelmintic efficacy and resistance was being investigated
on the Invermay farm where a high degree of resistance had
The field day also included a tour of Invermay's deer farm,
which comprises about 140ha of the campus' 440ha farm.