Huge Gains For Industry In 50 Years Of Deer Farming Science

From a noxious pest that should be eradicated to livestock providing the world with quality products, the deer industry in New Zealand has come a long way in 50 years – and the research that made it possible is now being celebrated.

An event next week at AgResearch’s Invermay campus near Dunedin will mark 50 years of deer breeding science on site by AgResearch and its predecessor organisations, always in close partnership with the deer industry and farmers. Half a century of research has led to major advances in understanding the diet, health, behavior and genetics of deer and in the development of products such as venison, velvet and milk that are exported around the world.

“Fifty years ago, researcher Ken Drew and veterinarian Les Porter thought it would be a good idea to put some science behind the nascent deer farming industry,” says Jamie Ward, AgResearch program director for Deer Science for Success.

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“With incredible support from early industry entrants, innovation, positivity and fantastic researchers, Invermay has become synonymous with the development of New Zealand’s deer farming industry and gained an international reputation for its scientific and research output.”

Ken Drew described the great challenge he and his colleagues faced in the early days of turning a dangerous wild pest into an animal that could be safely and successfully bred: “In the early 1970’s, deer was a noxious animal, and it was is legally described as an animal that should be exterminated. The concept of breeding a harmful animal naturally has political as well as biological consequences.”

Tony Pearse, who spent 19 years as a researcher in Invermay, recalls often traveling abroad to share New Zealand’s leading expertise in deer farming with the world: “It became an international community of a new industry. It was a real privilege, really exciting.”

Deer Industry New Zealand Managing Director Innes Moffat says that from the beginning the deer industry has been doing things no one else has done, so it is only natural that new ideas have helped develop the burgeoning industry.

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“Research at Invermay has always been conducted in collaboration with industry and focused on industry outcomes. Therefore, the impact of this science was enormous, and it was key to the development of the modern, sophisticated New Zealand deer farming industry that we see today.”

“While early scientists developed methods for deer farming and expanded our fundamental understanding of it, ongoing work in the program builds on it to make us even better at what we do. This ranges from feeding animals the right way and using the tools to select the right genetics, to developing new products from deer that meet the expectations of our global customers.”

“Scientists have helped us to overcome many challenges over the past 50 years. We have not run out of challenges and we look forward to continuing the collaboration between the passionate farmers in the sector and the equally passionate scientists to support them.”

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Key future challenges include addressing environmental impacts such as climate change and water quality, which Jamie Ward says will require solutions specifically tailored to the needs and challenges of the deer industry.

Celebrations of the 50th anniversary of deer breeding science on Monday 26 September will include an open house in Invermay including exhibitions and presentations highlighting the science, followed by a gala dinner.

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