Passionate about venison and velvet

Clachanburn sire 007, who sired some of the bulls in last week's Clachanburn elk sale. Photo by...
Clachanburn sire 007, who sired some of the bulls in last week's Clachanburn elk sale. Photo by John Falconer.
John Falconer describes New Zealand's deer farmers as being innovative, passionate and proud.

Mr Falconer, from Clachanburn Station, in the Maniototo, is ''extremely optimistic'' about the future of the venison and velvet industry.

This year, the Elk and Wapiti Society of New Zealand has teamed up with the Otago branch of the Deer Farmers Association to hold their respective velvet competitions at Edgewater Resort in Wanaka on Saturday.

The best local red and wapiti velvet from Otago and the best wapiti velvet and hard antler in New Zealand will be on display.

While judging is not open to the public, the event opens to the public at 5pm and there will be open public viewing of velvet and antler from 5.30pm to 6.30pm.

A ''deerable art'' fashion show will also be held, along with a venison cooking demonstration by Wellington chef Jacob Brown.

Mr Falconer, who is passionate about the elk and wapiti breed as a terminal sire venison animal, said he was looking forward to being involved with the organisation of the event, and also entering it.

He entered such competitions for various reasons - there was the networking and social side of it, along with an opportunity to benchmark, comparing the progress he was making to other farmers.

The elk breed was quite small and it was a good way to see what bloodlines were doing and how different animals suited different farms, Mr Falconer said.

''An animal cutting 20kg in Winton is quite a different proposition to an animal in Central Otago.''

There was also an auction on the night raising funds for research. Usually between $10,000 and $20,000 was raised and this year's money was earmarked for both ongoing animal health research and AI reproduction.

While Mr Falconer said he did not win a lot of awards, he believed in participation, otherwise such competitions would not exist, and he tried to support all classes.

It has been a busy time for Mr Falconer, with his Clachanburn Elk sale last week, which saw 71 bulls sell for an average of $5160.

The top price of $8500 was achieved for two bulls, both sold to Awakino Station in the Waitaki Valley.

Mr Falconer was thrilled with the success of the sale, saying it was great to see regular buyers returning and also a group of new buyers. Deer sold from Southland to Fox Glacier to North Canterbury.

There was no hiding the fact that, with the strength of the dairy industry over the past decade, there were fewer deer farmers around.

However, those involved were very passionate about deer. A lot of them were farming on land that did not suit dairy farming and, for Mr Falconer, it was a more profitable option than sheep or beef cattle.

The main part of Clachanburn's business was breeding high growth rate venison animals. Velvet was part of its business, but not its main focus, he said.

''The majority of people that buy deer off me are focused on venison with the added bonus of having a nice head of velvet.''

Venison was a very lean, healthy and tasty meat that was regarded as one of the premier proteins in the world, he said.



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