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Hind management is the key during drought

1 December 2015

Hind management is the key during drought

Deer farmers should be able to come through the predicted summer dry in reasonable shape so long as they start preparing now -- that's according to deer farmers who have successfully managed drought in the past.

Forecasters are predicting that this summer we will see the most significant El Niño weather event since the late 1990s. Drought conditions are likely in many districts, with the risk greatest on the east coasts and central regions of both islands.

The aim is to minimise the cost of drought and limit its impact to one season, says Kris Orange, co-owner of Great Southern Deer Farms in South Canterbury.

Orange, who is also chair of the NZ Deer Farmers Association, points to his own experience and that of other farmers who have successfully navigated previous droughts. He encourages farmers to draft a written response plan for feed and animal management that can spring into action when drought hits.

“Make decisions early and in progressive bites as the situation unfolds,” he suggests.

“It is important to reduce stock numbers as soon as practical, which might mean supplementing them with grain to reach killable weights. Then, as the drought bites you can concentrate on looking after your capital stock and maintaining their body condition scores.”

He explains that it’s far cheaper to maintain body condition scores than to try and build them up from a less than desired base, particularly with breeding hinds and velvet stags. Maintaining good scores has been shown to aid conception in hinds and increase velvet weights in stags.

“For breeding operations, prepare for early weaning, in February. This is the most effective drought management action for lactating hinds,” Orange says.

Maintaining hind liveweight is key for Landcorp’s Goudie Station in Reporoa, in the central North Island. Farm manager Ken Burt, after two dry years, recently sent off 80 percent of his weaners for processing at a 60 kg average for the premium spring market – a great result.

“It’s critical for the hinds to be in good condition for mating and fawning. Not only does it ensure a good base for next year’s condition, it also gives us the opportunity to do the best with the weaners,” he says.

If farmers plan to feed supplements like grain, Orange suggests committing to buy them early before the drought bites and prices rise.

Looking beyond this season, Orange says it’s worth considering ways to drought-proof your farm. This may include planting a summer forage crop, such as forage brassicas, chicory or lucerne or establish fodder trees.

“We have all learned little tricks to keep deer in good condition over the last five or six years as there always seems to be somewhere in New Zealand where we have a drought. That’s the great thing about the close-knit deer farming community. We’re happy to share what works!”

Orange also says it’s important for farmers to look after themselves in droughts.

“It is a stressful time. Keep in contact with other deer farmers to find out what they are doing, take time off away from farm and, above all, stay in charge by continuing to make constructive decisions.”


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