Invoice Robinson has been managing the Raroa Pink Deer Stud, close to Cambridge, New Zealand, for the previous 20 years.
The farm’s main revenue is generated from the sale of velvet antlers, the early-growth antlers that haven’t but hardened. Raroa additionally sells stud stags to industrial deer farmers who breed deer for venison exports.
The farm runs roughly 350 breeding hinds, which produce about 300 calves a 12 months. All of the stags are velveted (dehorned) at one 12 months outdated.
They’re then stored till the top of their second 12 months, when Robinson selects the animals to maintain within the stud (normally about 90) and people to put within the velvet herd (about 50). The rest (about 30) are offered to industrial breeders as breeding inventory for venison manufacturing, and roughly 10 are culled.
A stag grows a brand new set of antlers yearly, with development starting in August. Earlier than calcification, the brand new antler is roofed in velvet. After about 60 days of development, and earlier than the antler calcifies in December, it’s minimize off. The product is graded, frozen, and exported by brokers.
Velvet antlers had been initially utilized in Asia as a conventional drugs or aphrodisiac, however at the moment are offered to a youthful Asian market as a well being complement.
New Zealand exports greater than 700t of velvet antlers a 12 months.
“It was 500t a 12 months,” remembers Robinson. “The business thought that that quantity would saturate the market. However even with over 700t offered a 12 months, there’s nonetheless large demand.
“The marketplace for velvet supplies our greatest revenue. A stag grows beardicles [the first growth of antlers] in August at a fee of about 25mm a day. We permit the antlers to develop for about 60 days, then we minimize it above the coronet so it’ll develop once more.
“A pair of one-year-old velvet antlers weighs about 1kg, a pair of two-year-old antlers are 2,5kg to 4kg, and a three-year-old pair are between 6kg and 7kg. We harvest them early in summer time, earlier than they attain 40cm to 50cm in size, relying on the circumference.”
A stag will likely be used for velveting till it’s about 9 years outdated, after which it’s allowed to develop a full set of mature antlers. It’s then offered for trophy searching.
The farm breeds an 80%/20% composite-type animal from Japanese European and English Pink Deer genetics respectively. The previous has giant antlers and a big physique, whereas the latter is small and stocky.
The mix leads to a trophy-length antler with good factors, thick velvet, and a big physique for venison.
Stags bred for venison are chosen for physique size. In these bred for velvet, thick coronets are fascinating. These and trophy dimension are hereditary. Industrial velvet breeding stags are offered at three years outdated with their antlers intact, permitting consumers to see the dimensions of antlers they produce.
“The most effective velveter has a small physique, with giant antlers for velvet. It eats much less and wishes decrease upkeep. We would like a composite stag that’ll be huge for venison, have lengthy antlers for trophy searching, and have thick velvet,” Robinson says.
Hinds should be giant sufficient to keep away from calving issues.
Breeding and feeding
The calves are weaned at 4 months (March) and this marks the beginning of the brand new breeding season.
The so-called roar, when stags start roaring loudly and preventing to ascertain dominance for breeding rights, begins in April. Throughout this time, a breeding stag is positioned with 50 hinds.
Hinds have three cycles, every 17 days aside.
On 6 Could yearly, stags are faraway from the hind camps. Hinds gestate for about 233 days, and calving normally begins on 1 November.
An anal scan is used to check which hinds are pregnant.
As single-sire mating is used at Raroa, a follow-up stag isn’t used. Appropriate feed administration ensures that the hinds are in ok situation to conceive.
The higher a part of useable land at Raroa is planted to rye and clover. Robinson additionally mixes plantain and chicory into the pastures. About 18kg rye seed, 2kg cocksfoot, 4kg white clover seed, 2kg purple clover, 1kg chicory and 1kg plantain are planted per hectare.
“We had been utilizing chicory and plantain within the feed combine when most individuals thought they had been weeds,” he says.
The world receives an annual rainfall of about 1 100mm, most of it between June and August. With loads of grass development at the moment, stocking charges are elevated to stop hinds from turning into too fats and presumably not conceiving.
Hind herds will be as giant as 350 animals, and the animals are rotated often between paddocks.
Within the drier months, Robinson feeds his hinds maize to help in milk manufacturing. Maize can also be given to calves in order that they’re tailored to it as soon as weaned.
If the deers’ physique situation regresses, he separates the animals into paddocks with decrease stocking densities.
Earlier than the beginning of the mating season, hinds obtain silage each day to make sure good physique situation.
In winter, the stocking density is round 17 small-stock items (SU)/ha. Robinson measures grazing capability by eye, however says that he won’t ever graze rye to beneath the two-leaf stage. A stag is assessed as 3,3SU, a hind as 2,1SU, and a weaner calf as 1,8SU.
Animal well being
In keeping with Robinson, deer farmers dewormed too often up to now, and this led to inner parasites creating resistance to anthelmintics.
For that reason, he deworms at weaning, six months and 12 months of age, and thereafter, by no means once more.
A vaccine that addresses 5 clostridial illnesses and leptospirosis is run at tagging (two months outdated), with a booster given at weaning and at 12 months.
As a result of excessive tick inhabitants within the space, the deer are likely to have heavy tick hundreds, and a pour-on acaricide is subsequently administered each time the animals are dealt with within the deer shed.
There are not any tick-borne illnesses in New Zealand, however extreme tick hundreds can result in blood loss in younger deer and should be managed. Ticks additionally sit on velvet, damaging it.
Facial eczema is one other drawback encountered within the space, notably throughout wetter seasons, so Robinson selects stags which are immune to this situation for breeding functions.
He culls about 120 deer yearly. These usually include hinds too small to breed, velveters that don’t produce sufficient velvet, and two-year-old breeding stags which are too gentle. A mean stag carcass weighs between 50kg and 60kg, whereas that of a mature stag can attain 130kg.
Though deer have been domesticated, they’re nonetheless wild animals and are subsequently dealt with in a different way from sheep or cattle.
Nonetheless, Robinson factors out that skittish deer grow to be quiet as soon as inside a dealing with shed, giving handlers an opportunity to “put a hand on their backs” to measure physique situation scores.
To make dealing with attainable, deer-handling sheds should be constructed with ‘deer psychology’ in thoughts. In contrast to sheep and cattle, that are extra comfy in dealing with services the place they’ll see the place they’re going and see this as a type of escape, deer really feel safer once they assume they’re hiding undercover.
Amenities subsequently mimic a pure surroundings the place the animals can ‘conceal’ from the human menace. Dealing with services have excessive picket doorways, and a system of gates that may be opened to allow the deer to ‘escape’ to the place the handler desires them to be.
The deer are constrained in crushes for tagging, drenching and velveting. These have excessive picket sides, with canvas sheets on both aspect to stop the animals from seeing exterior.
Beginning a deer farm
For a brand new entrant into the deer market, the best preliminary infrastructure value is erecting a 1,8m sport fence. A industrial hind prices about NZ$600 (about R6 000), with a stud stag costing NZ$10 000 (R100 000). Many new entrants purchase two-year-old velvet culls as industrial stags.
As land and preliminary prices are excessive, the early giant deer farms had been began by trusts, and managers with sheep and beef backgrounds had been employed to run them.
Immediately, the deer business is way greater, with deer farmers counting on one another and business organisations to maintain the business worthwhile.
Electronic mail Invoice Robinson at [email protected].