Dairying's popularity eclipses deer farming

The number of deer farms in the country is declining, says Deer Industry New Zealand producer manager Tony Pearse.

In 2002, there were about 5000 farms and 2.3 million deer, many of them on lifestyle blocks. Now, 10 years later, about 2800 farms still operate but they are mainly larger, with a total of 1.3 million deer. Two thirds are in the South Island.

There are about 20 active deer farms in the Wanganui/Rangitikei/Ruapehu area, and other former deer farms where land use has changed.

"There are an awful lot of deer fences around the countryside without deer behind them, and deer sheds and yards not getting used anymore," Central Region Deer Farmers' Association chairman Craig Hocken says. "It's a shame."

He farms about 300 deer near Colyton.

Deer farming is losing ground to dairying, he says. A lot of people left the industry between 2002 and 2005, when prices fluctuated wildly. But, for the last four years, the price of farmed venison has been relatively steady.

Most of it is exported to Europe, especially Germany, and to the United States.

The price of deer velvet has also been relatively stable for the past three years. Most of that is exported to Asia, especially Korea.

Most of the deer farmed in New Zealand are red deer. The smaller fallow deer proved difficult to contain and work with because they were flighty, feisty and inclined to escape, says Mr Hocken. "They're not afraid of anything. They're a very tough little critter."

They also had smaller carcasses, which sold well in Saudi Arabia but less well elsewhere.

Unsuccessful farmers of fallow deer were not allowed to release them, but sometimes they gave them to farmers to hold on their land for hunting.

- Hamilton News

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