Deer farmers lured by tasty lamb prices

Deer farmers are dropping hind numbers and swinging towards sheep farming because of falling venison returns.

Venison prices have slipped to a peak of $7.40/kg for an AP stag, compared with $10/kg two years ago.

The ravages of Covid-19 have been tough on markets such as the United States with some restaurants closing down permanently and supply chains plagued by shipping hold-ups.

Deer Industry New Zealand is upbeat about the gradual reopening of European markets as vaccination rates increase, but admits to being worried about order backlogs, delivery delays and rising transport costs.

Deer farmers are reacting by downsizing herds, to make the most of lamb prices that have risen north of $9/kg lately.

New Zealand Deer Farmers Association's Canterbury and West Coast branch chairman Russell Rudd plans to cut 120 hinds from his herd of 360 deer at Mairaki Downs, in Fernside.

He said deer farmers were doing a lot of soul-searching as prices were well back and costs continued to increase.

Many of them were moving towards velvet farming or stepping up their sheep flocks.

They could not understand why lamb was high and venison low as they were both high-end products, he said.

‘‘We are going to look at our hind numbers next autumn because lamb prices are so strong and will probably shift back more to sheep unfortunately,'' he said.

‘‘Venison prices are at $7.40/kg, but the market usually peaks now only for the Europeans and then comes down to $5 to $6/kg.

‘‘When you compare that with lamb that's pretty sad.

‘‘The reality is most deer farmers farm other species and it's not hard to change the mix.’’

He will send older hinds with poorer genetics down the road, and set a wait-and-see course next year.

Mr Rudd said DINZ seemed to be pinning its hopes on adjusting its marketing from high-end restaurants to supermarkets and farmers would keep a close watch on this to see if this was the best strategy.

He said walking away from 20 years of deer breeding was not an easy decision and returning afterwards inevitably involved buying other farmers' unwanted stock.

Mr Rudd is stepping down as the association’s local chairman with Stu Stokes taking up the role.

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