With the deer industry being a relative latecomer to a data-driven approach to breeding values, it is important for the industry to continue to educate farmers and buyers about the gains being made in the industry, Connemara Stud owner Murray Hagen says.

''Breeders continue to make investments in their animals even though in many cases they continue to be ahead of the market in terms of returns,'' Hagen said.

''And it costs money to carry animals every year.''

Hagen, who runs Connemara Wapiti Stud on 300ha near Manapouri, said the introduction of the Deer Select data recording system had provided the industry with a solid platform for progress.

Murray Hagen with some of his prime velvet. Photo / Ken Muir
Murray Hagen with some of his prime velvet. Photo / Ken Muir

''When we started at the height of the dairy boom, we faced a declining client base as farms were converted,'' Hagen said.

''As we've progressed and begun to hold our own auctions and gained new clients, we're finding ourselves on a much more secure footing.''

Connemara had five of the 10 top sires in New Zealand and at a recent sale his top-priced sire fetched $18,000, he said.

''Not everyone automatically understands the value of investing in quality genetics and many farmers are still focused on purchasing sires in the $3000 to $5000 range.''

It was important for the deer sector to continue to spread knowledge about the gains being made in breeding and the potential for farmers to increase value by producing a better-quality product, Hagen said.

''In many ways we are following in the footsteps of the beef and sheep sectors in developing measurable breeding values.

''But we are now at a point where value can be clearly demonstrated and we need to work to get a return for that added value.''

The advent of the Advance Party system to help deer breeders and farmers share information was an important element in the education process, he said.


The initiative, which is a partnership between the government and the deer industry, aims to demonstrate improvements that have been made to encourage the wider adoption of farming practices that can improve the profitability of deer farming.

''Our focus needs to be on getting our performance up across the sector,'' Hagen said.

''However, we still face the challenge of having our breeding improvements recognised not only for our stud animals but in the money we receive for our meat.''

Hagen said he owned a few deer in the late 1980s and acquired a taste early on for ensuring his herds maintained quiet characteristics and were easy to manage and handle.

The crossing of Fiordland bloodlines with American elk was to avoid longer-legged animals and he found the squatter animals easier to handle.

''It's also worth remembering that deer are browsers who like to move around. Providing the right conditions also helps make them easier to handle.''


It was a positive time for the industry at present.

Meat and velvet were both attracting sound prices, he said.

''We do need to continue to focus on added value, however, and avoid becoming a commodity product.''