Lily Cunningham, of Dunedin, and George Gill, of Tuatapere, were two of 10 people chosen to take part in the Deer Industry New Zealand's 2019 Big Deer Tour last month.

Participants visited deer industry-related businesses as well as Peel Forest Estate and Mt Peel Station in Geraldine.

The Alliance Group, Ara Institute of Canterbury (Hospitality and Service Industries Section), Allan Agricultural Consultancy Ltd, Provelco, Christchurch and New Zealand Light Leathers Ltd, Timaru, also hosted the group.

Lily Cunningham


For Lily Cunningham (20), one of the highlights of the tour was visiting the New Zealand Light Leathers Ltd, Timaru, which takes farm-raised deer skins and turns them into quality leather and suede.

The company sends the leather to overseas clients, for luxury goods, such as Gucci handbags.

She was also interested to hear DINZ's deer genetics manager and scientist Sharon McIntyre talk about genetics, which Cunningham was considering as a career path.

She is studying agri-science at Lincoln University, but is originally from a lifestyle block in Dunedin.

''I worked on a sheep farm in Central Otago - Penvose Farms, Wedderburn - during the summer holidays in 2016-17 for my practical work, and they had a deer enterprise,'' she said.

''That was the first time I got to work with deer.''

That sparked her interest and she was pleased when she was selected to be part of the Big Deer Tour.

''The tour was an awesome experience and really good fun,'' she said. ''I loved it.''


They were given an overview of the deer industry's supply chain and looked at the different sectors within it.

''That is something not many people get to see in the industry.

''I really enjoyed going on to the farms, which was really cool.

''The tanning factory was something I had never seen and that was interesting.''

She also enjoyed the visit to the Ara Institute, where they were shown how to cook venison and made different dishes.

They visited Provelco, which buys in velvet and then sells it to Korean and Chinese markets.


''They showed us how they graded it and then shipped it overseas.''

When they visited Mt Peel Station, which was the last stop of the tour, the group was given a surprise: a white river rafting trip through grade five rapids on the Rangitata River, which runs through the station.

''That was awesome, a really big highlight.

It was really good fun, we let off steam and got a bit of exercise.''

Cunningham is looking forward to working on another deer farm during the next summer school holidays.

''There is a real demand for staff on deer farms,'' she said.


''Farmers are struggling to get someone with experience and who is willing to work with deer.

''The perception is they are dangerous but they are now bred to be a lot calmer.''

George Gill

Getting an overview of the whole deer industry supply chain was one of the highlights of the 2019 Big Deer Tour for George Gill, of Tuatapere.

That and the white river rafting.

He was one of 10 people who were selected for last month's tour in and around Canterbury, which showed them various aspects of the deer industry, from breeding and rearing to processing, and adding value to end products.

Gill (20) is at Lincoln University in his third year of studying Land and Property Management (Rural Valuation), majoring in primary production.


He worked on deer properties when he was younger and had developed an interest and enthusiasm for the industry as a result.

''The highlight of the tour was seeing how passionate people are through the whole deer industry, from farmers to agriculture consultants, and people in the tannery, to velveting and venison, and breeding,'' he said.

''The thing that stuck out to me the most was getting to mix with people in different macro-areas within the whole supply chain.''

He said they spent an afternoon learning about the velvet industry at Provelco, Christchurch, which exported velvet to Korea and China.

''We asked questions the whole afternoon and it was a real eye-opener.

''The New Zealand Light Leathers Limited, in Timaru, showed us the international aspect of exporting.''


They exported deer leather and suede overseas to clients like Gucci.

Gill also spent time talking to people at the Alliance processing plant and found out about tracing product from plate back to paddock.

''That is a real push for the industry, tracking back to the farm, and that is what sets New Zealand apart from the rest of the world.''

He thought the Peel Forest Estate's breeding programme was fascinating.

''The time and effort they put into it is unreal.

''They are one of the leaders of deer farming in New Zealand when it comes to genetics.''


Gill said the white river rafting experience was another of the highlights.

''DINZ project manager Rob Aloe kept that a secret, and it was awesome.

''The whole trip was great.

''We got to make contacts [within the industry] and that stuff is priceless.

''The knowledge we were exposed to was amazing,'' he said.

Aloe said the tours provided future industry leaders with an overview of what the industry did.


''We get them for a week and show them [the supply chain] from top to bottom,'' he said.

''It gave them a good experience.''