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Sustainable deer farming can be profitable

Research shows sustainable deer farming can be profitable

14 November 2006

There is a widely held belief that deer farms typically have a detrimental affect on soil and water quality. However, little research has been undertaken to assess the real impact that deer farming has on these two precious resources.

AgResearch scientist Dr Richard McDowell and his research team set out to establish the facts by setting up two focus farms – one in Southland and the other in Otago. He is presenting his findings at the 68th annual Grassland Association of New Zealand conference which starts today, November 14 in Dunedin. AgResearch, which is a key sponsor of the event, is being represented by several researchers presenting work on this year’s theme – It’s not easy staying green!

Some of the few studies that have been undertaken suggested that natural behaviour by deer such as fence-line pacing and wallowing can cause significant erosion and input of nutrients, sediment and faecal bacteria into waterways.

“Sustainable deer farming in New Zealand requires profitable and well producing farms which have a minimal impact on the environment. Our aim was to demonstrate how productivity and environmental objectives can coincide on a deer farm,” he says.

The two farms were established to identify, trial and showcase best management practices (BMPs) to see what effect these had on soil and water quality.

A detailed soil and water quality testing regime was set up for each farm. Data was collected at the Southland farm for three tributaries (one fenced-off, one partially fenced and one unfenced) which fed into a stream and through a tussock covered area retired from grazing.

Samples were also taken at the Otago farm from a pipe draining a recently grazed winter brassica crop, and at three locations on a stream running through the farm: a sheep and beef farmed area before the deer farm, before a sedimentation pond and after the sedimentation pond.

“Water quality in the unfenced and partially fenced tributaries was poor with no water quality parameters meeting Australia and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council guidelines, whereas water quality in the fenced-off and planted tributary was better.”

The researches found that certain BMPs improved the quality of water on the farm.

“When management practices such as fencing-off and the creation of a pond were used, water quality improved. More importantly, an area retired from grazing and further development on the Southland farm showed that water quality could be significantly improved and could be better than that entering the farm.”

The study concluded that BMP practices such as Fenced-off waterways and, to a smaller extent, the use of a sedimentation pond were effective in improving water quality parameters.

“The use of these BMPs highlights the possibility that water quality from deer farms can meet standards for lowland water quality while the farm maintains profitability,” says Dr McDowell. “However, due consideration of the suitability of BMPs to a farm is required as the effectiveness of BMPs will vary according to factors such as landscape, climate and farm management.”


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