Deer farmers consider advances in the industry

Visitors to the New Zealand Deer Farmers’ Association Otago branch’s recent field day at AgResearch’s Invermay site got the chance to explore the 140ha deer farm. Photo by Yvonne O’Hara.
Visitors to the New Zealand Deer Farmers’ Association Otago branch’s recent field day at AgResearch’s Invermay site got the chance to explore the 140ha deer farm. Photo by Yvonne O’Hara.
Cautious optimism about the venison industry was one of the key messages offered by Deer Industry New Zealand (Dinz) chief executive Dan Coup at the New Zealand Deer Farmers' Association Otago branch's field day at AgResearch's Invermay last week.

About 30 people attended Deer Select workshops in the morning, then toured Invermay's 140ha deer farm before listening to presentations in the afternoon.

Invermay has 550 breeding hinds, 14 stags and 180 replacements.

There was an update on Deer Select from programme manager Sharon McIntyre and project leader Geoff Asher. Scientist Colin Mackintosh spoke of results of work on drenches and parasite control and Frank Griffins talked about his Johne's disease work.

Mr Coup joined Dinz last year.

"While not quite the heady days of helicopters in driveways, the velvet market is better and there is no reason to think it is not going to keep trundling along quite happily," Mr Coup said.

He was also "cautiously optimistic" about the venison industry, particularly regarding the European main markets.

"We have hit the bottom of the cycle and heading up in the next few years."

Opportunities opening up in Asia contributed to that optimism.

While the national herd was declining and there was competition from Spanish and Polish feral deer coming on to the market, the northern European markets remained positive.

He wanted to see the industry move away from its five-to-seven-year cyclic nature, and increase product differentiation away from poorer quality product competition. The industry's Passion 2 Profit programme was also moving forward.

The programme had applied to the Primary Growth Partnership for further help to provide on-farm tools for farmers.

"We have had feedback that they like the idea and now we are part way through developing a business case."

Dr Asher discussed results from the three-year Deer Progeny Test programme run across herds at three sites, including Invermay.

It had been looking at improving sire linkage between herds, providing a plat› form to evaluate breeding values across breeds, and providing a starting point for evaluation of maternal traits.

He said the 24 herds in the programme were now linked so that it was possible to produce genetic comparisons across all herd animals.

Farmers were able to compare the traits of an animal from one farm with those in the other herds and do so with a reasonable level of confidence.

That would improve both genetic gain as well as meat quality and sensory traits and temperament.

He said a Single Nucleotide Polymorphism chip with 50,000 gene markers (which can identify individual genes for an animal in a DNA sequence) for deer had been developed and would be released later this year.

Dr Mackintosh reported on research into parasite control and the efficacy of oral, injection and pour-on Moxidectin and Abamectin drenches for killing parasites in weaner deer.

While there was a 100% kill rate for lungworm and oesophagia, the kill rates for ostertagia ranged from 4% to 87%, with pour-on being the least effective. A 95% kill rate is considered a critical level.

- by Yvonne O'Hara