More testing – this time for TB. So 425 mixed age hinds through the race to be clipped and injected. The temperament was amazing – incredibly laid back and simply not stressed at all – but it was hard work pushing them in because they really couldn’t be bothered moving. I think that’s a good complaint to have!
The top line of mixed sex weaner have finished their first paddock of winter feed and lucerne balage and have now moved onto Greenfeed Oats which they are really enjoying. We call this mob “the Chill Crew” because they are so laid back – seem to spend most of the winter sitting in the sun, not stressing about anything. I know these animals are going to be very succulent venison!
The mixed age hinds have now had 56 days on their self-feed silage pit of cereal silage. They are able to feed when they wish and are very content wintering on this.
One of the highlights of July was the pregnancy scanning of the hoggets. We had two lines – 300 of our best replacement ewe lambs and 260 of a second cut. The second cut were lighter animals, mainly born from hoggets themselves however they proved to be very fertile, and fecund. The entire mob scanned 124% with 250 singles, 200 twins, 13 sets to triplets and 92 dries. So 83% of the mob got in lamb. The dries were not all from the second cut either – we have 20 dries over 50kg that will be going to the local sale yards as they are too heavy to go for export meat.
Its shaping up to be a really wet year – we have already had 555mm of rain to date , that almost our annual rainfall and we are only half way through the year.
The South Otago lambs are brought in for a final weighing – we draft down to 40kg liveweight this time and still manage to average 44kg on a line of 200, however they have only grown at 110 grams per day in the last months so definitely time for them to be on their way. These dress out at 19.2 kg (44%) with 94% of them meeting yield grade specifications – giving us a further $5 per animal. So overall the money is still very good.
June started wet and we are pleased that we have made a decision to delay the shearing of our remaining ewes and ewe hoggets until the middle of June. Even then the rain makes it difficult. We are able to get the hoggets dry and kept under the covered yards until they can be shorn but it takes another week before the ewes dry enough to be put under cover.
Pregnancy test the 158 maiden hinds and the 80 hinds put to the AI programme provides a pleasing indication as to how the fawning potential looks following a good autumn and putting more stags than usual out at mating time.
This is followed up by blood testing 180 of our younger replacement hinds for Johnes ( a wasting disease that can appear when animals are put under stress). It’s a relatively expensive exercise but only three test positive, two are low levels so a great outcome. We now learn that works monitoring of all animals killed probably provides the best early warning sign of Johnes prevalance in our herd, and this has been at zero for the past two years so a pretty good indication. Still is great to know that 180 rising 2 and 3 year old hinds are free of this disease and therefore will not be passing it on to their progeny.
At an Awards Night celebrating our Hurunui District, Puketira Deer was fortunate enough to be one of the recipients of the Hurunui Main Power Trust Environmental Award – receiving $2,500 that will be put toward native planting to reduce the flow of sediment into a tributary of the Weka Creek. There were a number of successful applicants all doing exciting things for the environment in the Hurunui District.
Its been another great month – regular rain and mild conditions. As growth on the Lucerne paddocks has now slowed deer and sheep are grazing the paddocks bare before the paddocks go dormant for the winter.
On the 11 May we sent a further draft of the South Otago lambs to be processed. These averaged 20.1kg carcase weight so the yield is coming back from the previous month. It looks like we have sufficient feed to graze the remaining 230 for one more month then they will simply have to go.
One Saturday about the middle of May it was our pleasure to host a visit from Heidi and Jeremy Geske from Minnesota. Heidi is lecturer is Agribusiness at the University of Wisconsin while Jeremy has a background in soil sciences and is involved with environmental sustainability initiatives.
It seems that environmental awareness and looking at ways to achieve sustainability are just as topical in Minnesota as they are in New Zealand.
We enjoyed showing them around Puketira Deer and are quite excited as Heidi hopes to bring a group of university students from Wisconsin to visit New Zealand on a study tour in January 2019 .
It seems that after 21 years it time to do some remedial fencing on the first part of the property that was deer fenced. The deer have finally worked out that some fences are not really deer fences at all. We have replaced about 1000m now with 1.8 metre high deer netting and have also put an electric wire on outriggers along several more fences to stop fence line erosion. This fencing has made a significant difference to managing stock on the existing deer unit but does no allow us to get onto what we really want to be doing – getting the final 60 hectares of the property fenced.
As the end of May approaches – so does winter. It’s a really wet, cold grotty finish to the month and it time to start thinking about getting the animals onto their winter feed breaks.
The month started with half a day splitting firewood for the winter, its simply one of those jobs that keeps getting put off, until you realise that its very close to winter and there is no split dry firewood!
The first week of April saw the completion of our annual Artificial Insemination(AI) programme for 80 selected 2 & 3yr old hinds of high genetic worth. We have received the results of last year’s programme back and while the overall result was about 70% in calf to AI the 2 year old hinds achieved a very pleasing 80% rate (to AI). Who says you can’t put mate hinds to AI as a 2 year old?
Mid April saw Puketira Deer host a public field day for the Deer Industry’s North Canterbury Advance Party Group. The theme of the day was “What does Environmental Sustainability look like in 2018?” The day was well attended with Janet Gregory from Landcare Trust and Michael Bennett from Environment Canterbury providing pragmatic advice on how deer farmers could minimise their impact on the land (and water). High light of the day for us (apart from the opportunity to show case Puketira Deer) was being presented the Duncan and Co 2017 Environmental Award for “Excellence and Vision in a Demanding Environment”.
With the field day behind us it was back to working with deer. The mob of AI bred weaners , first calvers fawns and replacement hind fawns was brought through the yards to their second Yersinsia vax shot, a parasite drench and to be weighted. It has been 49 days since they were weaned. The fawns were very calm and settled in the yards and were in great condition with shiny coats. The best of them were growing at 500 grams/day. That’s 24.5kg of liveweight gain since the start of Mar The average daily gain across the entire mob was in excess of 300 grams/day so they are all doing well.
Given the quantity and quality of the feed they went back out onto we would expect good growth rates to continue for a bit longer yet, although we do know that the growth slows as winter approaches.
After all the rain we had in January and February, March was a dry month with only 44mm rain (slightly less than the long term average for that month). We started the month by weaning two of the mobs of deer and selecting the young hinds we wanted for this season’s Artificial Insemination (AI) programme. Determined to ensure that this year weaned fawns would stay in the right paddocks some time was spent fixing some paddocks with better netting, electric outriggers and realigned gateways. The end result was a big improvement and made such a difference but it all took more time. Consequently, and given the feed on hand, a decision was made not to wean the mob of later born fawns but simply put the stags out with the mob and “post rut” wean. We have never done this before so will see how it goes. The hinds are in good condition and with plenty of feed it will be a chance to compare the liveweights of the weaners from this mob vs those weaned early.
With Mel, our farm manager, away in the Australian outback on a horse for 3 weeks the job of crutching the 2th ewes fell to me – and some of them had got quite daggy with the lush feed around this autumn. Dagging sheep before the ram goes out is not usually necessary in a dry autumn !
With the wonderful rains received in January the cunning plan was to harvest all the Lucerne paddocks for pit silage at the start of February, thus ensuring we would have quality regrowth for weaning the fawns at the end of February. However, February gave us even more rain than January – 150mm in total. Suffice to say Lucerne and clover, with the heat, grew extremely well throughout February. What a turn around from before Christmas ! So stock were able to be fed adlib – including 380 store lambs delivered from drought stricken South Otago at the start of February. We have never done this before but there has never been a better month to do it. These lambs averaged 32kg liveweight on arrival and we really don’t have a set margin in mind but will simply use them to harvest some of the high quality feed we have on farm at present.
The rest of the month is spent bringing hinds and their fawns in for ear tagging, first shot of Yersinia Vax (the fawns are so valuable this year it would be a shame to lose them to Yersinia if they come under stress). Fawning results are generally pleasing and we should finishing up with an overall result in the high 80 % but its amazing how many are lost from mating to weaning . First there are the hinds that simply don’t get in calf for what ever reason, then there are those that were carrying a fawn – but don’t bring one in at weaning so there is an element of wastage over the year.
While many other parts of the country are now complaining of too much rain conditions at Puketira Deer in August are superb. With only 28mm of rain over two rainfall events in the month we are able to put a fertiliser truck over the Lucerne paddocks in late August, without leaving wheel ruts – that’s limestone soil for you!
The same cannot be said for the clay downs which continue to ooze water. We miss the coldest weekend in August whilst on a week’s holiday to Rarotonga. We certainly didn’t expect to hear the roar of the Nor-west on holiday but we did. Except in Rarotonga they call it the trade winds – and its great if you have gone on holiday to learn to kite surf!
Upon our return a change in the amount of feed on the paddocks is evident, and we have only been gone 6 days! Its an early spring and we are able to set stock the ewes prior to lambing on sufficient pasture covers. In fact the winter has been generally kind so we have some kale crops and Lucerne balage left over. Once the hinds finish their silage pit they are happy to go onto the kale left over from the sheep.
We weighed all the weaner deer once their kale crops were finished and put them onto annual grass paddocks that had really bulked up over the mild winter. It looked like a lot of feed but it was just amazing how much the weaners could “hoover” through in a week. They must be growing rapidly now the day light hours are increasing.
The ewe hoggets that didn’t get in lamb have now gone for processing. They averaged 22kg carcase weight and obviously yielded very well as a number exceeded the maximum 25kg carcase weight. I bet they will all be mouth wateringly delicious. They obviously enjoyed their winter forage of Green-feed oats.
The weather remains favourable as lambing commences – this year we even managed to get them set stocked before they started lambing!
Ground conditions are now ideal as we being driving deer posts along the boundary. Good progress is made when you can simply drive down the line putting in posts as you go, without needing to spike the ground first. Even the massive 3m strainer posts go without any difficulty.
July sees us settled into out winter routine – and 84mm rain gives us winter recharge – the streams are flowing and the soil moisture is at field capacity. The hinds are now well settled on their new self feed silage, situated on a high dry plateau a long way from any water way. No danger of any adverse environmental impact here! The limestone is quite close to the soil surface and this prevents mud from forming. The ground stays dry and relatively warm consequently. Three weekends in a row sees Southerly storms sweep through. Any stock that are not already in shelter are shifted to sheltered paddocks, consequently the hinds get a change of scenery each weekend before returning to their silage pit after the storm blows through.
Winter time is fencing time - Thomas has designed a netting spike to go on the front end loader. This allows us to pick up the 1900mm high coils of netting, feed them out and then pull them up tight, all from the seat of the tractor. Then its time to try out our latest labour saving tool – a gas powered staple gun. This makes short work of putting in the staples, effortlessly. We put a new fence up along a hedge line – and while it is slow going spiking all the holes before posts can be driven – it doesn’t take long to put up the netting.
Huge excitement one day – a truck gets through the snow on the Lewis Pass and brings a 18 bundles of deer posts. We can now prepare to deer fence the remaining 60 hectares of the property. We plan to do 30 hectares with season with the balance to be completed in 2018. By that stage we will know whether the Hurunui Water Project is proceeding and we can fence for the placement of a centre pivot irrigator on the block.
The ewe hoggets are enjoying their diet of green-feed oats – the crop in places is taller than the sheep and we have to break a track every day with the tractor in order to set up the electric break fence. The hoggets pregnancy scan 100%, a result we are pleased with given that 30% of the mob was made up of tail end ewe lambs from the hoggets. Lambs that were too small to go to the works in the autumn and were simply retained to build up numbers. In simplistic terms these turned out to be the ones that didn’t get in lamb.
Queens birthday weekend at the start of June always seems to herald the start of winter and this year was no exception. We were trying to get our shearing done but first the shearing contractor was late getting to us due to the weather , then we only managed to get one day in before it came in wet again.
We were hoping to get the hoggets shorn after Queens birthday weekend and planned to put them into the covered yards on Sunday morning to ensure they would be dry for shearing on the Tuesday. Alas – they were already quite wet on their backs when they went onto the yards however we thought that with some air flow through the shed they might dry.... On Monday morning they were checked and still damp but we had to let them out for a feed. Incredibly by Monday afternoon they were pronounced dry by our manager and put back into cover. We shorn them on Tuesday morning and the shearers simply could not believe we could have dry sheep. The 32 micron wool was bright, sound and of very good quality but alas wool price in down 50% on last year and so the best offer at auction is $2.60/kg greasy so it will remain unsold. Apparently there is simply no demand at present as the Chinese are not in the market and because they are not nobody else seems inclined to offer any more. Little do we realise at this point – this is our last wool clip (more on this to follow).
Weaner deer are introduced onto their winter feed paddocks – kale with Lucerne hay in feeders as well. It’s a simple system where we move the temporary fence once a week and they quickly settle into the routine and are very quiet. We run one mob of 230 through the yards to be weighed and they average 72 kg going into the winter. We know the other mob is at least 6 kg heavier but have not had time to weight them.
As we ease into winter the larger mob of hinds are introduced onto the new self feed silage pit. They quickly adjust to this new site and seem very content. A couple of weeks later they are brought in for pregnancy scanning. A pleasing 97% are in fawn however 40% will not fawn until early December – it appears they only took to the backup stags – introduced for the 3rd cycle. This presents a challenge to our management – what is the cause? , at least now we know what to expect and will be able to fawn them as two mobs – early, and late.
Pregancy scanning of the sheep also takes place in June and we are very pleased to see the sheep come in great condition – for the first time in 3 years they appear to be properly fed. The results speak for themselves. Mixed age ewes scan 184% with only 3 dries and the 2ths scan 185% with only one dry. It seems that our autumn management of the ewes was spot on. The result is bittersweet as we have already made a decision this will be our last lambing and the ewes will be phased out next January in favour of increasing the deer numbers to replace them.
Early May we receive a phone call inviting us to enter the Deer Industry bi-ennial environmental awards. Its tempting to say No but we are conscious that farming needs to promote its environmental track record so we agree. The judging team duly turn up and proceed to video us as we describe our farming operation – this is not quite what we expected! As one of the judges has been to our property now three times in the past nine years it feels more like an audit rather than a competition. It certainly makes us aware of what has changes have been made to our farming operation over that time.
Later in the month there is the opportunity to get off farm and go to Wellington for the Advance Party annual conference followed by the Deer Industry’s National Conference. Both events are very positive and informative. We come away pleased to be part of an industry that appears to have a good future. However one of the keynote speakers – Kaila Colbin presented a challenging address “Riding the exponential wave of change“ (you can view her address on :
This address talked about the rapid pace of technology bringing about change including self driving cars, synthetic meat, milk and eggs. Its all a bit scary and makes one pause to consider where quality farm raised venison will feature. However, I believe the deer industry is up to this challenge – we have a delicious, tender product that will continue to be sought after by a discerning international customer. We also have a great story behind our product and we need to keep telling our story.