Eight Hawke's Bay deer farmers are pioneering a new way to make their farms more profitable.
They are members of the first "advance party" in the North Island, a Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ) initiative designed to get farmers learning from each other. Ru Gaddum of Kereru is the chairman.
Facilitator and Waipukurau vet Richard Hilson says this is not a farm discussion group nor a monitor farm under another name.
"I suspect many farmers are discussion-dayed out. An advance party is a small group of farmers who define for themselves what they want to learn and what they want to change on their farm. Their meetings are private to the group, which enables all participants to hear and be heard.
"I've been to field days with 100 farmers present, where hardly any of them said a word. In this model, we aim to have farmers teaching farmers, so there's a lot of communicating going on."
The Hawke's Bay group is as diverse as you can get. There is one stud farm, four high-performance velvet herds and three venison breeder-finishers. In addition, the farm owned by Hilson and his wife, Karen, is contributing data.
"That's a condition that DINZ makes for participants. They must collect evidence of the impact of the change they make, so they can demonstrate progress to the group and to the wider community," says Hilson.
The advance party must also be project based, with each farmer working towards achieving a change in a defined time period, be that one, two or three years.
He said the eight farmers were performing well in most respects but each had areas of opportunity and areas they wanted to improve.
"Some will be easy to bite off, other challenges will take more of a chew."
Two of the velvet producers want to make more genetic progress by breeding from hinds that are producing the best stags. This means pairing fawns and hinds, a challenge on hill country. But Hilson says the advance party has already shown how it can be done, using a spotting telescope to identify their ear-tag numbers.
One of the venison producers has asked for help in identifying and reducing the number of late fawning hinds. Another wants to bring terminal sires into a breeding system.
"All are focused on the importance of maximising weaner weights before winter so they get the greatest number of venison animals to market, at optimum weights, during the spring peak price period."
DINZ manager Innes Moffat says there are now 30,000 hinds and 46 farms involved in six advance parties nationwide. The latest group looking to form is based in Manawatu, which will be the second in the North Island.
"Advance parties are about improving the profitability of deer farming which, when done well, can be highly competitive with other forms of livestock farming. Farmers can't control the venison or velvet price, but they can control how efficiently they produce venison and velvet. The knowledge is out there and is often already being applied by other farmers.
Moffat says DINZ will be encouraging advance party members to share with other deer farmers the lessons learned as their projects develop and come to fruition.