Early farmed deer herds were founded on animals captured from the wild. The pioneer farmers quickly learned that deer could be farmed successfully, so long as the deer were provided with quality feed in a low-stress, free-range farming environment.
Minimising stress and ensuring high levels of animal welfare are foundation stones of good deer farm management. Deer respond well to farmers who are calm and patient, particularly individuals they recognise.
The success of NZ farmers in developing low-stress management systems for their farmed deer is reflected in the quality of NZ venison. It has a long storage life when chilled and has superb eating qualities.
Codes of Welfare and regulations under New Zealand’s Animal Welfare Act underpin all aspects of deer farm management. These codes cover:
Farm management practices designed to ensure farmed deer are treated humanely in a low-stress environment are prescribed in the Deer QA and NZ Farm Assurance Programmes. Nearly all large-scale venison producers belong to one of these programme, with compliance independently audited on behalf of venison processors.
All farmed deer have lifetime traceability through the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) programme >>
Velvet antler removal is a controlled surgical procedure which may only be carried under the supervision of a trained veterinarian, using analgesia, to ensure it is pain-free.
For more information on velvet production and removal >>
Many farmed deer live long lives on the farm on which they were born. For breeding hinds and velvetting stags this is typically 8-10 years. Deer raised for venison production usually stay on their birth farm until they are processed for venison as 1- or 2-year olds. However, some young deer are transported after weaning to a specialist finishing farm where they remain for up to 12 months.
Deer raised for venison, as well as older hinds and stags at the end of their productive lives, are transported on specialised deer trucks to one of 10 purpose-built processing plants for humane slaughter.
The transport of deer, whether to finishing farms or slaughter, is a specialist operation, involving trained drivers, and the use of crates designed for deer. Compliance with the Code of Welfare for the Transport of Deer is audited by Deer Industry NZ as part of its Deer QA programme.
These measures are highly successful in protecting the welfare of deer in transport. Indicators of stress, such as bruising, are closely monitored and corrective action is taken if necessary.
On a day-to-day basis, farmers base their management of their deer on the ’five freedoms’. These are internationally accepted standards of care that affirm every living being's right to humane treatment.
- Freedom from hunger & thirst
- Freedom from discomfort
- Freedom from pain, injury or disease
- Freedom to express normal behaviour
- Freedom from fear or distress
Farmed deer have an assured supply of feed and water (freedom 1). They are also provided with shelter and shade (freedom 2) and benefit from active animal health management, such as vaccination against diseases; parasite prevention and control (freedom 3).
Farmed deer are free to roam and graze in large paddocks, but their ability to express all their normal behaviours has to be restricted for farm management, safety and environmental reasons (freedom 4).
Unlike wild deer, farmed deer are generally kept in groups based on age and sex. This reduces bullying and – among other benefits – allows quality feed to be given to the group that needs it most. In late summer and autumn, for instance, lactating hinds and their fawns are given priority access to quality feed.
Waterways, streambanks and wetlands are fenced off where practical, to discourage deer from wallowing, a natural behaviour that results in soil and nutrient loss into waterways.
Farmers cater for this behaviour by providing wallowing areas that are not connected to streams so there is no impact on water quality.
Minimising fear and distress (freedom 5) is a major focus of good deer farm management. Deer have been shaped by evolution to detect and escape predators. They are sensitive to unusual or loud noises, sudden movements and unusual activity in or near their paddock.
Minimising stress – by ensuring staff are properly trained and through the provision of appropriate handling facilities – are requirements of the on-farm Deer QA and NZ Farm Assurance Programmes.
For more about deer welfare, click here >>