Consideration of the age of the deer you are handling will impact on management and handling techniques.
Young deer that have been freshly weaned are to be handled with care. Health related issues associated with stress can be common in weaner deer, and so it is vital for weaners to be handled with minimum stress. The main recommendations when moving young deer are:
Considerable patience is required with young mobs of deer. Sometimes it is necessary to walk away and perhaps leave gates open for them to find their own way, rather than persist in stock movements that cause elevated stress levels in animal and handler!
Let the mob do a couple of laps around the paddock, to let off some excessive steam. It is however important to keep these animals moving as one mob - do not let individual animals to break away, as invariably these animals will be the repeat offenders in subsequent mob movements.
It may be necessary to run the young deer with a couple of older animals, and move them through the yards and raceways a couple of times. This allows the younger animals to become used to this handling, and the facilities.
Transportation of freshly weaned deer is to be avoided. A minimum of 10 days is recommended before any transportation occurs to minimise impact on weaner health, welfare, and productivity.
Deer are creatures of habit and prefer routine and familiar surroundings. It is important that the young animals are familiar with their handler, and their dogs (if used). Keep the number of staff used to handle weaner deer to a minimum, only very well controlled dogs should be used.
Stags are to be handled by people who have adequate experience, and are confident in their deer handling skills. The most important recommendations related to stag age are:
Compatibility of individuals within a mob is key to reduce stress at handling. Mixing of different stag ages within a mob during handling activities or transportation is to be avoided. This is also true for combining stags that have been run in separate mobs in the paddock. Aggressive behaviour between stags becomes very likely in these situations, especially when they have been brought together in a confined space.
Extreme care is required when handling stags in the roar. Only stags less than 2 years are able to be transported to a Deer Slaughter Plant during the roar. Further information and regulatory requirements of deer transport can be found in the codes of practice (click on the following link: Regulatory obligations: welfare).
Mature stags should not be in the same pen with fawns and hinds due to their aggressive behaviour in confined spaces.
Males with hard antler or trophy stags should only ever be yarded with extreme care, similarly stags with hard antler or trophy stags should not be held in paddocks with other males as the risk of fighting and injury is much higher. Farmed males should have their velvet removed or their antlers once the velvet has begun to strip.
Male deer show warning behaviours before they become aggressive, the handler should be fully aware of these signs and act accordingly in case the stag attacks. The behavioural signs are:
- Grinding teeth
- Lolling tongue
- Rolling eyes
- Flattening their ears against their head
Never enter a pen containing stags unless you are confident they are of a placid nature (although this may change depending on the season). It is always safer to work with stags from the outside of the pen, or from above (on cat walks).
If you do need to enter a pen with stags then it is most important to have an escape route planned via escape doors, or have a shield to protect yourself. Deer are very unpredictable animals so forward planning of what happens with the animals once they are in the yards or shed, i.e. which animals go in which pens, before the stock enter the yards. Also have contingency plans for all possible scenarios when handling stags within the yards and sheds. The plan needs to be understood by all personnel working in the shed at that time, and can be implemented quickly to keep everyone in the yards safe.
Never work with stags on your own!