$100k stag sold at swan song auction

Netherdale Red Deer Stud owners David and Lynley Stevens display the velvety head of 3-year-old...
Netherdale Red Deer Stud owners David and Lynley Stevens display the velvety head of 3-year-old sire stag Green 183/20, which sold for $100,000 at the 37th and final sire sale on their Northern Southland farm last week. PHOTOS: SHAWN MCAVINUE
A Northern Southland deer stud offered some of the best velvet genetics in New Zealand for the final time. Shawn McAvinue talks to Netherdale Red Deer Stud owner David Stevens about navigating tough times to go on to sell stags for six figures.

A final bid of $100,000 for an award-winning stag was a highlight of the swan song sale of velvet deer breeder in Northern Southland.

David Stevens, 73, hosted his 37th and final sale at Netherdale Red Deer Stud in Balfour last week.

He sold 24 3-year-old sire stags for an average of $19,000 including a top price of $100,000 for stag Green 183/20.

The stag was worth every cent, Mr Stevens said.

"Some years he would have made more than that."

The deer won several prizes at the 41st National Velvet and Trophy Antler Competition in Invercargill last month.

Among the spoils were the Southland Branch NZFDA Cup for winning the 3-year-old red section.

The deer also took home the reserve champion award "which for a 3-year-old is quite exceptional".

"I don’t think a 3 year old has managed to do that before."

The stag also took home the people’s choice award.

"Which is a big deal."

The deer was bought by Wilkins Farming co-owner Michael Wilkins, of Athol in Northern Southland.

"He will do well there and it is not to far to find out how he is."

Mr Wilkins said $100,000 was the most he had paid for a stag.

The appeal of the stag included its success in the competition and it being the best on offer at final sale at Netherdale.

"There’s not often you get a chance to buy a stag like that — the stud would generally retain it."

The performance data of the deer was "unique" including a 130kg yearling body weight.

"It has a nice temperament and it has got a +8.18kg breeding value for 12-month growth rate, which is pretty good in the velvet industry."

The deer from Netherdale had a very clean round beam and good weight, which the market paid a premium for.

Mr Steven’s contribution to the industry had been "massive", Mr Wilkins said.

"He has always been a strong advocate for the industry and given time for matters beyond his farm gate."

Mr Stevens never wavered from his focus on velvet, Mr Wilkins said.

"People have chased his genetics because he didn’t get distracted by venison or trophy, he stuck to velvet."

As Mr Stevens made his opening speech at Netherdale, he held on to two catalogues, the first and the last.

A major difference between the two catalogues was the last one included much more information including photographs and measurements of velvet heads, live weights from weaning to sale, breeding values and bloodlines.

Netherdale 3-year-old sire stag Green 183/20 (back) sold for the top price of $100,000 at the...
Netherdale 3-year-old sire stag Green 183/20 (back) sold for the top price of $100,000 at the 37th and final Netherdale Elite Red Deer Sale in Northern Southland last week.
The first sale was held at Lorneville Saleyard near Invercargill in 1987 before moving to Castlerock Saleyard in Lumsden.

A sale arena was built on Netherdale for the first on-farm auction in 1997.

In 2005 and 2006, he tried a Helmsman style of auction, where all the lots were open for bidding at the same time.

"It was a disaster but we were going through a fairly tough patch in the industry at the time, velvet prices weren’t great and venison was pretty average."

In 2005, he seriously considered selling the stud when the total sale income dropped to $70,000. "That knocked us around a lot."

They kept the stud but considered selling again in 2013 due to the workload and the state of the industry.

His wife Lynley and his accountant convinced him to keep the stud. "Thank goodness Lynley and the accountant talked me out of it."

A Netherdale stag set a record price for the stud when it sold for $135,000 in 2022.

A major difference of stags now to when he started was they were quieter and easier to work with, despite being bigger.

The heaviest stag on sale last week was 314kg.

In 2002, the average velvet head weighed about 4kg. The average weight of the stags on offer last week was 8.6kg.

Netherdale had been owned by Mr Stevens’ family since 1881 and he was the fourth generation to farm it.

While farming, he had held many governance roles including the New Zealand Deer Farmers Association national president between 1999 and 2001 and chairman of the Southland branch of the association.

He was also an Environment Southland councillor for six years and retired at the latest election.

In retirement, he and Mrs Stevens would continue to live and farm at Netherdale.

He would build a herd of up to 100 hinds and sell some of them by private treaty.

The Netherdale stud had been sold to the Hudson family, of Ardleigh Farm in Geraldine and would be given the first option to buy any of the hinds.

Mrs Stevens had been breeding Wiltshire sheep on Netherdale since 2008.

"She does a great job and is very dedicated to them. I see in her what I’ve been like all my life with the deer."

After the deer sale, seven two-tooth Wiltshire rams sold for an average price of $1050 including a top price of $2600.

Mrs Stevens said she was "delighted" with the sale result.

Mr Stevens said he would not miss the stress of the sale. "What I will miss the most is the people."

About 300 people attended his final sale.

He looked back on his career with no regrets.

"I’ve been very lucky to have a hobby that is my job."



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