From: Deer Farmers' Library (www.deer-library.com)|
[Information provided by Dr. Philip Theunissen, South Africa, Dick Valentine of the New Zealand Fallow Deer Society, and the New Zealand Game Industry Board web site - http://www.nzgib.org.nz ]
Deer farming originated in New Zealand, and this country remains the world's largest and most advanced in this specialized agricultural pursuit.
There are more than 4,000 deer farms in New Zealand, ranging in size from small hobby farms to extensive commercial operations. On these farms are approximately 1.8 million deer, or half the world's farmed deer population. This figure includes an estimated 1.2 million female deer (hinds or cows) and 600,000 stags and bulls.
Deer are not native to New Zealand. The first deer were imported from England and Scotland for sport in the mid to late 19th century. The deer were released mainly in the Southern Alps and its foothills in the South Island. The environment proved to be ideal. By the middle of the 20th century, deer were regarded as pests because of their impact on the environment and native forests.
The export of feral (wild) deer started in the 1960s, turning a pest into an export earner. Industry pioneers saw an opportunity in the early 1970s to build on this base by capturing live deer and farming them. A new industry was born and rapidly spread throughout New Zealand.
According to the New Zealand Game Industry Board statistics, more than 90 percent of the New Zealand deer industry's products are exported. The volume of venison exported increased from 11,639 tonnes in 1996 to 17,332 tonnes (38 million lbs) in 1999. In 1999, New Zealand exported 176,000 kg (388,000 lbs) of velvet antler, 1.2 million kg (2.8 million lbs) of co-products (pizzles, sinews and blood products), 565,000 hides and 105,000 square metres of leather. Total value of these exports in 1999 was just over NZ$209 million.
Venison sales account for 76% of export revenues followed by velvet antler (12%) and co-products (6%). Live animal exports were negligible.
The major market for New Zealand venison is Western Europe and Scandinavia, accounting for approximately 80 percent of total venison exports. Germany is New Zealand's largest single market, contributing approximately 40 percent of total export earnings. Other European countries (combined) represent about 30 percent of export value. The United States is the second largest single market, at about 14 percent of export earnings.
The New Zealand Game Industry Board recognizes three basic types of farming operations, namely breeding, venison finishing and velvet production. Farmers may concentrate on one or a combination of these farming operations. Deer breeding involves breeding and selling stock. Rising one-year hinds not selected as replacement breeding stock are finished for venison or sold at live sales.
Breeders can focus on breeding for venison or velvet production. Venison finishing involves purchasing all stock as weaners and selling as finished stock specifically for the chilled venison trade which peaks from October through to January. Velvet production involves purchasing or breeding stock and selecting stags with potential to retain for velvet production. Stags not selected for the velvet herd are finished (having been velveted), but would not meet the timing requirements of the chilled venison trade.
Venison was once known as the 'meat of kings,' as only royalty and favourite courtiers were permitted to own or hunt deer. Its traditional use as a cold-weather dish, often marinated and cooked over a slow heat for many hours, stems from those olden days. In Europe, those traditions remain and venison is prized as meat for festive occasions. However, it does not bear any resemblance to the strong gamey flavours of wild venison.
Sophisticated New Zealand farming techniques mean that deer are able to roam and graze naturally in the open air, free from stresses which can toughen muscles and develop strong tastes. As a result, New Zealand farmed venison is naturally tender and mild in flavour.
Modern venison suits the lighter culinary repertoire. As a naturally lean meat, venison is ideal for cooking quickly over the high heat of a barbecue or wok, stir-fried or roasted and served with a light sauce and perhaps a salad. Also, modern venison processing techniques mean that the ageing process now takes place in a sterile process, once the venison has been vacuum-packed.
Dairy farming remains the leading pastoral farming enterprise in New Zealand, generating a net margin exceeding $1,200/ha. It is, however, closely followed by deer, while sheep and cattle enterprises fall well behind. The profitability of deer farming is quite significant accordingly, and, coupled with its low labour requirements, will continue to attract new farmers into the industry.
With the existing strong and well organized marketing structure which underpins the industry, New Zealand can continue to be the world leader in the production of farm raised venison. In the process, it has achieved its objectives of being the driving force behind the marketing agenda, assuring venison is promoted and sold as a profitable, healthy, gourmet food.
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