From late November last year until the end of May, elk and wapiti cows were milked as an experiment on Clachanburn, the Falconers’ 4000ha Maniototo farm near Ranfurly.
With no “how to” instruction manual or DVD they learnt by doing, taking a gently gently approach. The deer were milked, one at a time in a padded crush, once every three weeks after overnight separation from their fawns.
The deer-milking project was spearheaded by Queenstown entrepreneur Graeme Shaw, who identified a need for unique, high-end food experiences after building and managing the luxury Matakauri Lodge near Queenstown.
Other team players were John Falconer’s dairy farming sister and brother-in-law Susan and Brent McEwen and cheese maker Neil Willman, of Over the Moon Cheese in Putaruru.
Brent McEwen's practical know-how was essential in getting the experiment off the ground, Falconer said.
The milk, whiter and creamier tasting than cows’ milk, was sent to AgResearch Ruakura for analysis.
Shaw was reluctant to reveal composition details but said it was “high in everything you’d like to see and low in things you don’t want to see”.
Deer cheese, similar to camembert, had been produced and other high-end products would be looked at.
A batch of the smooth and creamy cheese will be auctioned on July 6 at Sky City’s Dinner with a Difference. Some of the proceeds will be donated to the Leukaemia Foundation in support of the Falconers’ six-year-old daughter Lucy, who is receiving treatment for the disease.
The Falconers are at the “bite the bullet” stage now and are gearing up for the next phase of development. They plan to convert a cattle shed into a six-stall walk-through shed to milk 50 deer once a day.
There was still a long way to go to achieve a sustainable and economically viable business, but if all went to plan full-scale deer milking could be possible in three to four seasons, Falconer said.
MORE: Full story in Country-Wide August issue