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Runs on board for deer initiative

Deer Industry NZ
MEDIA RELEASE
14 January 2015

Runs on board for deer initiative


Advance Parties, a Deer Industry NZ initiative designed to help farmers increase the profitability of their farm businesses, is getting runs on the board. At the end of the first year of a three-year trial co-funded by the Sustainable Farming Fund, there are eight Advance Parties underway, involving 89 farms.

Project manager Amy Wills says Advance Party members are committed to personal and farm business development, sharing their data, methods, plans, results, problems and successes. It’s very different to a farm discussion group.

Because members lay all their cards on the table, Advance Party meetings are limited to the participating farmers, their families and staff, plus a facilitator. Meetings are not open to the public or the media.

There are parties in the Central North Island; Hawkes Bay; North, Mid and South Canterbury; McKenzie Country; Otago; and Southland. Late last year an Elk-Wapiti group had its first meeting.

“The farmers involved learn from each other. This is working extremely well in the groups that have been operating for 12 months or more. In the Hawkes Bay, facilitator Richard Hilson says the local Advance Party now has momentum and is virtually running itself.”

Wills says it takes about three meetings before the participants get a good understanding of the Advance Party process. Then the dialogue really gets going and on-farm issues are put on the table.
“The facilitator is critical. Their job is to encourage farmers to identify opportunities for gains on-farm and to get the other farmers in the party to suggest solutions. Their job is to facilitate communications, not to be a farm adviser.

“We encourage members to look at other member’s farms from the perspective of ‘If you owned this farmtomorrow, what would you do differently. This really gets all members thinking and some of what comes out of the resulting discussions is hugely valuable. Sometimes it is simply a matter of having a new pair of eyes looking at an entrenched issue and saying, ‘Have you tried this?’.

“There’s also the enthusiasm that comes from being part of a group of motivated like-minded people. This has led to some members making investments in new deer fencing and suchlike that they have been mulling over for years.”

A common theme across many of the Advance Party farms is proving to be better feeding, especially the need to get calves to higher weights at weaning. On some farms high losses of calves between birth and weaning are a concern. Hind-calf pairing on hill country, to enable accurate selection of replacements, has been another opportunity identified by a number of members.

To participate in an Advance Party, a farmer must commit to the group, be open to making management changes and record the results of those changes. This will then enable DINZ to provide the wider deer farming community with case studies that other farmers can learn from.

Recording productivity on deer farms has raised the issue of what to record. Unlike the dairy industry, where every farmer can rattle off performance indicators like milk solids per cow, or milk solids per hectare, there are few key performance indicators (KPIs) for deer farms in common use. The only one with wide currency is kilograms of velvet per head, although kg of venison per hectare or per kg liveweight hind wintered are gaining some profile.

Wills says a special Advance Party chaired by Southland farmer Mike Wilkins and facilitated by Wayne Allan is working through the data provided by the other Advance Parties to come up with some more KPIs.

“We need these so we can compare productivity across the industry, apples with apples. Because deer farms don’t all produce the same things there will be KPIs for reproduction, replacements, velvet production and venison finishing.”

During 2015, DINZ will be establishing round three of its Focus Farms programme. Where possible these will have the capacity to link with Advance Parties in their region. Through Focus Farm field days, all deer farmers will have access to the outcomes of management changes trialed on Advance Party farms.

[ends]

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