Potential of deer milk-derived cosmetics excites developer

Deer milk is being used in a world-first range of skin care manufactured in New Zealand. Photos: Supplied
Deer milk is being used in a world-first range of skin care manufactured in New Zealand. Photos: Supplied
Graeme Shaw describes his latest venture as ''a great example of tenacity''.

For the past six years, the Queenstown man has relentlessly pursued a desire to see milk harvested from deer and used in new products.

''I don't call myself a pioneer but I guess I stuck with it,'' Mr Shaw said yesterday, before a launch this month of a world-first skin-care range formulated with deer milk.

Like those early pioneers of New Zealand's farmed deer industry who had ''trusted their instincts'', he had done the same, even though there had been plenty of opportunities to walk away.

Graeme Shaw
Graeme Shaw
Not that ambitious projects were something new to him; the former physiotherapist's first building project was establishing the luxury Matakauri Lodge, near Queenstown, with his wife Susan.

Given the natural flighty nature of deer, the prospect of milking the animals, let alone establishing a market for their milk, raised plenty of eyebrows - and continues to do so.

However, Mr Shaw saw ''enormous'' potential for the Kotia brand, both in New Zealand and internationally.

The range, which was formulated and manufactured in New Zealand, has been developed by cosmetic chemist Sigrid Vorwerk.

It used healthy milk that would hydrate and nourish the skin while also being agriculturally responsible, he said.

The creation of a quintessentially Kiwi product was something that was derived from Mr Shaw's time at Matakauri, during which it was named one of the World's Top 50 Hotels by Conde Nast.

He believed the reason behind its success was that it was a ''Kiwi lodge'' with New Zealand food, wine, art and music.

Visitors experienced a ''total Kiwi immersion'' and repeatedly talked about how warm and welcoming it was. He decided that whatever else he did, he was going to trust that Kiwi quality.

Some years after selling Matakauri in 2001, Mr Shaw was having a wine with a friend on a deer farm when his friend's wife brought out a platter with sheep, goat and cow milk cheeses.

When he asked where the deer milk cheese was, he was promptly told that ''you can't milk deer''.

That led to a discussion about whether the behaviour of deer could be modified so there was a reason why they wanted to go into the milking shed, if there was a stress-free environment.

After later reading about donkey milk cheese fetching high prices, Mr Shaw went back to his friend and told him he reckoned that it could be done.

His friend was not interested in embarking on such a venture but put him in touch with John Falconer, from Clachanburn, in the Maniototo, who coincidentally, had also been wondering whether it was possible.

Mr Falconer came up with a ''really smart'' system to milk hinds but it was when a milk hand approached the pair after a milking session that the potential for skin care was revealed.

Her work-worn hands had been transformed - her hands had become softer and less aged in appearance, and her nails were stronger and less prone to breakage. The only difference to her daily routine was milking deer.

By that stage, they had already sent some deer milk off to be made into cheese and it inspired Mr Shaw to have the milk analysed by AgResearch scientists, who discovered it was abundant in skin enhancing agents.

Describing it as a ''superfood'', Mr Shaw said it was rich in retinol, folic acid, anti-oxidants and nutrients, and anti-inflammatory agents in the form of vitamin D3.

He started to explore the potential for skin-care and some creams were sent early last year to AgResearch at Lincoln for testing.

The results came back showing the most rapid and intensive hydration seen through the lab, he said.

Deer milk alone could not be relied on to change someone's skin, and so other ingredients in the products needed to be effective and clinically proven, and that had been done, he said.

The Kotia range would be launched in Life Pharmacy Wilkinson in Queenstown this month and then in Farmers, Unichem and Life Pharmacies in March, before being released ''to the world'' shortly after.

A joint venture had been established with Australian-listed McPherson's Ltd, a supplier of health, beauty, household and personal care products which has operations in Australia, New Zealand and Asia.

The deer milk was now being sourced from South Canterbury deer farmer Graham Carr, from Peel Forest Estate.

The key to getting healthy milk was to minimise stress levels for the hind, so fawns were not separated from their mothers. Instead, they did not start milking until mid-January.

More supply would be required in the future and Mr Shaw said farmers would have to be educated on how to meet the requirements. Animal welfare had to be put ''above everything else'', he said.

Deer milk received publicity recently, when Pamu - the brand for Landcorp - won the novel food or beverage award at last year's New Zealand Food Awards. Pamu deer milk also won the Grassroots Innovation award at the national field days at Mystery Creek and that all augured well for the fledgling industry, Mr Shaw said.

While some people still thought that the venture was crazy, he could not be more excited about the milk and where Kotia might go.

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