Hectic period for pioneer in deer AI

Deer AI technician Lynne Currie is at home in the deer shed. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Deer AI technician Lynne Currie is at home in the deer shed. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY

Lynne Currie has the distinction of probably artificially inseminating more deer than anyone else in the world.

Mrs Currie, who lives near Wanaka, is in the middle of a short but hectic season as she travels the country helping deer farmers to diversify the genetic base of their herds.

The first farm was programmed for March 15 and the last on April 8 and much work goes into planning the logistics, including coordinating both vets and farmers.

Often, she is travelling in the morning to reach the next farm and will start around 3pm working through until 9pm or 10pm to inseminate up to around 250 hinds.

When flying to the North Island, Mrs Currie is always worried about weather conditions and possible flight delays, as there is much at stake.

Timing is critical, from the pull of the CIDRs (controlled internal drug release) — which are used for the synchronisation of oestrus in the hinds — to the actual insemination.

She has done much work with staff at AgResearch’s Invermay campus involving trials about timing.

Mrs Currie, who pioneered and developed the trans-cervical AI procedure in red deer in New Zealand, has been inseminating deer for more than 20 years.

There are only a handful of deer artificial inseminators in the country and she employs three technicians.

It was 1996 when she was encouraged to turn her extensive cervical bovine AI skills to elk and hybrids.

It was then suggested by a vet that she try her hand at red deer. From the initial first three he programmed for her to inseminate successfully, she went from doing 200 that year to 2000 by the next year. She is now up to about 4500.

She has also worked in Australia, the United States, Mexico and Canada. Mexico, in particular, was very interesting.

‘‘It was a different experience to see how other people live,’’ she said.

Brought up on a sheep and cattle farm in Canterbury, Mrs Currie has always loved animals.

Prior to specialising in deer, she worked for Ambreed for 22 years and had extensive cattle AI experience.

She estimated she had probably inseminated several hundred thousand cows, doing about 12,000 annually.

That experience had been beneficial in aiding understanding of the inner workings of animals and the shift to deer had not been a big contrast.

Being a woman had its advantages, she believed, particularly when it came to working with red deer which were small, as females had smaller hands.

Insemination was a precise operation and a gentle approach needed to be taken, to avoid perforating the wall of the uterus. The animals also needed to be well held in a crush.

Using AI meant the genetic base of a herd could be diversified and much more quickly than natural mating when limited numbers of hinds were able to be served.

‘‘Genetically you romp ahead,’’ she said.

It also reduced the risk of disease spread.

New Zealand, she believed, had the best deer genetics in the world and generally the semen being used was from New Zealand-bred stags, which was then traded between farms.

It was through AI she met her husband Trevor, who established Black Forest Park in 1980 at Outram, during the early days of the New Zealand deer industry.

Since 1996, a property at Clinton had also been operated and the Black Forest enterprise was now run by Mr Currie’s son, Richard.

The number of hinds being booked with Mrs Currie this year is up, which she attributes mainly to strong velvet prices.

Last month, Deer Industry New Zealand Dan Coup said an increase in farmed deer numbers was a strong indication of growing farmer confidence in the viability of deer in drystock farming operations.

Farmed deer numbers, including the number of breeding hinds and fawns, increased in 2018. That followed a small recovery in stag numbers in the 2017 census.

Hind numbers in the year to June 30, 2017, recovered to 413,400 from a low of 392,300 in 2017. That was the first firm indication the long-run decline in deer numbers, that began in the late 1990s, had ended and that a recovery was under way, Mr Coup said.

Mrs Currie said deer farming had been ‘‘on the back foot’’ for a long time and it was good to see a recovery. Much money had been invested in genetics over the years.

One of the best parts of her AI work was getting to stay with farmers, who then became friends. Farmers enjoyed the opportunity to show their properties.

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