Dave Lawrence’s affinity with deer goes back to his days as a veterinarian with clients who were farming them, at a time when the domestication of deer was a relatively new pursuit.
“I always felt there was a majestic quality to deer. There is something quite amazing about how they hold themselves. For centuries across civilisations they have been held in high regard,” says Dave.In those early days elk fawns were imported from North America.
The original sire for Tikana Stud was sourced from Canada with Dave guided by the advice of a good friend to choose a very good natured deer with a history of excellent velvet production.In 1995 the stud shifted to its current idyllic location nestled in a valley at the northern end of Forest Hill, central Southland.
Spreading over 35ha the stud is a relatively small operation, with a big reputation having produced many national award winning sires. Dave says the core purpose of their stud is to supply Wapiti sire bulls for New Zealand breeders and Wapiti terminal sires for commercial deer farmers.
“There was a real excitement in those formative years of deer farming. So much wasn’t known and it had a real pioneering quality to it. Other countries, such as Russian and China were not pasture based as is the practice here. It’s quite a remarkable journey when you consider it is not that long ago and now New Zealand has the world’s largest population of farmed deer .”
One of the challenges of a relatively small stud size is the need to introduce fresh genetics to continue to improve the stud. Very few deer are sent from Tikana to slaughter and Dave says they take a great deal of satisfaction in supporting improvement in genetics and performance across the whole industry by making their top sires available to breeders.
“Our goals are to provide genetically valuable animals to other people. All our female stock is sold live.” When Rural South spoke with Dave it was coming into the busy season with fawns about to be born.
Here Dave’s policy of not weaning them until after the roar and mating has taken place. He says this gives them the best possible start in life.
So when mating takes place in March/April the fawns have packed on weight and condition.In the new year when grass quality starts to go off the deer are supplemented with balage Fawns are wintered inside and Dave says a key benefit from this practice is that they become very quiet and docile.
“Deer will always have it in them to be flighty so we are always careful in how we handle them. That stint inside results in a much calmer animal to manage in it’s future life.”
The market for velvet has been traditional Chinese/Asian medicinals, however Dave says in recent years there’s been a dramatic shift in its use towards the high-energy/healthy life-style commodities such as specialised drinks in places such as Korea. In New Zealand animal welfare is para-mount, unlike in other countries.
Here analgesics are administered to animals having their antlers removed and these processes are undertaken either by a qualified vet or by farmers who have under-gone training in the use of painkillers.
One of the remarkable aspects to a male deer’s life is how much the annual cycle of hormonal changes impacts on their behaviour and appearance.
“What other animal undergoes such a dramatic change in their physiology? When the testosterone levels are low they are quiet docile animals but that same animal in the roar you wouldn’t want to go near. And then their ability to grow a new set of antlers each year and the rate at which they grow and develop year in year out is amazing.”
Deer can produce velvet for up to 15 years though 10 years is more common. The genetic make up of Wapiti deer in New Zealand stems back to 1906 when President Roosevelt donated Elk to New Zealand. Over time these inbred with the red deer brought into the country by our European forefathers.
So there is a spectrum of genetics ranging from more purely red deer to more elk with Wapiti in the middle.A lot of the original deer stock for farming was sourced from Fiordland.Another critical moment in the development of this country’s deer farming industry took place in 1998 when CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease) emerged in Canada and the U.S.
“It’s similar to mad-cow disease and is now well established throughout North America. Genetics from these countries were banned so we had to look within New Zealand for genetics.”Asked what his goals are for velvet, Dave says it is to produce an average 10kg of velvet from their two-year-olds.
Dave also gets excited about the possibilities to apply genetic science in new ways that will trans-form the industry.“The thing that excites me most is being able to select the things you can’t see.”At 10 months, deer are scanned for eye muscle area .
There’s a direct link between eye muscle and carcass dressing out percentage, meat to bone ratio and eating experience.In December Tikana Wapiti Stud will have available its January sales catalogue. It’s an event Dave and Donna look forward to each year.
This article was brought to you in association with the following businesses…
- Flash Agri Ltd
- Hawker Velvet