Chris Petersen ready for retirement after fruitful years in the deer farming sector

Chris Petersen’s reputation for growing the most amazing heads of velvet from his stags on his farm at Sutherlands, Pleasant Point, South Canterbury is recognised New Zealand-wide. The unassuming deer farmer has spent a large part of his life latterly producing deer with some of the biggest antlers in the country, the result of careful genetic selection.

“It amounted to, on average, 1.5 kilogramme more velvet per stag on this property.”

Commanding the respect of the industry, Highden Deer Park antlers are prized for both trophies and velvet. The farm covers 126 mainly flat hectares, and Chris and wife Debra have owned the property since 2012. Highden Deer Park is home to an all-red-deer herd, made up of 164 weaners, 200 hinds, 85 spikers and 290 stags.

Before purchasing Highden Deer Park, the couple farmed near Te Anau. When he located north, he brought fewer stags and spikers with him but interestingly cut about the same quantity of velvet. “It amounted to, on average, 1.5 kilogramme more velvet per stag on this property. The reason for this increase was warmer and drier weather along with shorter winters and new grasses.”

Over the years, Chris has developed his own farming methods to get the best from the deer. He doesn’t wean the fawns early, giving them plenty of time on mum to grow. “By doing this, it makes it easier to separate them by June.”

In 2014, Chris’ contribution to the deer farming sector was recognised by receiving the Matuschka Award. He’s also had many years as Chairman of the Fiordland Deer Farmers’ Association. And while he’s obviously a natural at getting the very best from his deer, Chris started his working life working on the land, catching possums and hunting deer for the venison market in the North Island before crayfishing.

He also owned 240 acres in Grove Bush with Debra working on the farm. Originating from the Kaimai Ranges between Waikato and Bay of Plenty, Chris and his brother sadly lost their mother when they were quite young and ‘went bush’. “That’s how I ended up trapping possums.”

At one time, one of his top sire stags, Sovereign II, was the biggest stag in the world. It won the 2013 national hard antler competition with a 62-point set of antlers, weighing an impressive 30 kilogramme when cut. Sovereign II was brought as an embryo from top English Warnham genetics.

With a chuckle, Chris says he has probably got the ugliest velvet in New Zealand, but he’s got plenty of it and velvet prices are very good. When his deer first arrived at the farm, they developed ryegrass staggers caused by eating ryegrass infected with certain fungi. This can cause nerve and brain damage. He doesn’t carry out drenching or use common fertilisers.

Chris says it’s very important to be passionate about deer to successfully breed them. He doesn’t carry any other stock on the farm. A large shed is full of antlers, a testament to what his stags have grown through the years. Part of the enjoyment of deer farming has been the friendships with other deer farmers he has formed.

Now, having reached age 70, the couple has made the decision to sell up and retire to Te Anau. “A trophy bloke has brought the farm and all the stock. Takeover is the end of March.” Both Chris and Debra are looking forward to retirement by the lake. Chris says looking back, he’s pleased with what he has achieved and his contribution to the deer farming sector gives him great satisfaction.

© Waterford Press Ltd 2024 – Independent Print Media New Zealand

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