Farmers keen to expand tech use

Mt Somers deer farmers Duncan and Lorna Humm farm English red deer. They have 180 mixed-aged hinds, 20 stags and 165 weaners on their property. Photo: Toni Williams
Mt Somers deer farmers Duncan and Lorna Humm farm English red deer. They have 180 mixed-aged hinds, 20 stags and 165 weaners on their property. Photo: Toni Williams

Electronic identification tags, scanning wands, weighing scales, farm business courses and drone use to check on animal welfare are all management tools used by Mt Somers deer farmers Duncan and Lorna Humm to improve, and add value, to their deer operation.

The young couple run a deer farm on a 43ha property, nestled near the foothills of the Southern Alps. Duncan isa fourth-generation farmer. The farm has been in his family since the mid-1960s, after his great grandparents moved from dairy farming near Kaikoura.

His parents, Christina and Bryan — now retired — ran sheep and cattle before diversifying a section of the property to deer in the 1990s.

The family has 150ha in total and Duncan and Lorna plan to extend their business sometime in the future.

They breed English red deer, mostly for venison production, but they also breed velvet replacements as well as velveting stags.

On farm there are 180 mixed­age hinds, 20 stags and 165 weaners.

The bulk of the stags will be sent for processing in October and any surplus replacement hinds, sold.

With venison prices at an all time high, Lorna and Duncan are always on the lookout for ways to improve their on farm productivity.

At its peak this spring, venison prices are going to be $11-$12 a kg, and velvet prices are predicted to be similar to last season’s good returns.

Since they took over the property in 2007, they have increased their weaner weights with improved pasture production and quality.

In June that first year weaners weighed on average around 58kg in May; 12 years later, as a result of incremental gains every year, they are averaging just over 75kg at weaning at the beginning of May.

Rather than rest on their laurels the couple are constantly revising their targets, the efficiency and cost­effectiveness as well. They want to do all aspects of the business well.

They use no palm kernel, or genetically modified imported feeds.

Duncan said it was important to show attention to detail in all areas: soil, health, feed, timing, environment, and genetics. DNA testing is next on their radar.

The Humms are pretty tech­savvy, but if there were more opportunities to make gains in production and profitability, they want to know about them.

The Deer Industry Tech Expo in Ashburton on Friday aims to showcase tech options to farmers keen to take advantage of the opportunities that exist.

It’s a relatively young industry, but Lorna says, from the outset the deer industry had been an innovative one.

‘‘Herds are building,’’ Lorna said.

‘‘More people have confidence to grow their herds. They are passionate about their industry.’’

For deer farmers there are gains in production and profitability available for the taking, she said.

The tech innovation around can transform businesses, but also simply make some tasks easier.

The trick is knowing what is available and having great support to use the product to its full potential.

The Humms expect the Deer Industry Tech Expo will bring technology providers together with farmers, in a relaxed environment where there should be something for everyone.

★ The Deer Industry Tech Expo is on this Friday, July 27, at the Hotel Ashburton. 

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