Venison profitability a focus for farm

Venison profitability a focus for farm
Weka Farm team: Jack and Levi Graham, Brendon Graham (farm manager), Leah Lemon, Logan Smith and Cam Armitage.

A Landcorp farm of predominantly Red deer near Lake Brunner on the West Coast and managed by Brendon Graham, is placing a greater emphasis on growing this operation focusing on venison profitability.
Weka deer farm is part of Landcorp’s Weka complex, which is 7043ha total/5500ha effective and comprises five dairy farms, a dairy support block and the deer farm, which also has a beef herd and trading lambs.
The block managed by Brendon comprises 2260ha effective including 600ha of humped and hollowed land with the balance in native grass species and used as a breeding block. Around 5100 deer are wintered including 2750 hinds.
Landcorp has had deer on the farm since the 80s but the focus used to be on sheep and beef. Brendon says that when he started working on the farm in 2015 it was largely focused around dairy support and wintering dairy cows but the focus has changed to breeding and finishing the deer.
Back then the farm finished around 500 trading deer – now it finishes all its own stock.“A choice needed to be made as the times of the year when deer and cows need to utilise the pad-docks was not always complementary. This farm is suited to deer,” he explains.
Focus has been placed on growing a strong healthy herd by culling heavily to bring the herd age structure down to 11 years and younger. The aim is for fast growing yearling trading fawns of which carcass weights have been increasing and kill dates being brought forward.
For example by the 21st October last year 150 spikers had been sent to Silver fern Farms at an average carcase weight of 55.9 kilograms. This year 459 spikers have been sent to Silver fern Farms at an average carcass weight of 58.8 kilograms by the same date. Brendon says the aim is for 80% of spikers to be sent to the works by mid November.
The goal is to grow the operation to 3000 in-calf hinds by this winter. Brendon says this will be achieved by continuing to focus on producing and rearing good quality replacements.
This year the average weight at mating was 108 kilograms scanning at 3% dry.Animal health is another big focus. Any lates or poor performers are culled and the farm drenches for liver fluke as well as supplementing the stock with vital minerals such as copper and selenium.

Venison profitability a focus for farm
PHOTOS: Trading deer on red clover; Rolling lucerne to be shut up for silage

Brendon says the aim is to minimse drenching, in particular for lung worm, and the farm now has a policy of testing faecal matter to determine the need to drench which has seen a marked reduction.
Another change has been to shift to a full grass winter system rather than growing crops of kale and rape. Brendon says this has environmental benefits as well as producing better feed. He is sowing the winter star grass species in February, which performs extremely well over winter.
This area is then sown into red clover for 2 ½ years – a high protein, high ME feed – before the cycle begins again. This year 170ha of winter star will be sown and the previous season 81ha.
A small beef and sheep operation complements the deer by cleaning up pastures and utilising them during the quieter times of the year for the deer business. There are 3000 beef cattle stock units and 5000 summer lambs. The lambs come onto the farm in December and are fattened to be sold by February.
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