Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Keeping the faith

Faith in the deer industry has helped a Gisborne couple through the early years of farm ownership. Anne Calcinai reports.  Malcolm and Caroline Rau bought Malcolm’s family farm, Puketia Station, in 2006 after leasing the hill-country property for seven years. Rau said the first five years of farm ownership, and the debt that came with it, were the toughest.

They have managed to increase scale – by taking on the lease of a neighbouring farm in 2007 – and lift deer numbers, particularly in the velvet herd. The fairly even split between sheep, cattle and deer has also helped them ride the highs and lows of the red meat industry.

Nestled under the Urewera Forest Park, with 6km of bush boundary, Malcolm said the usually summer-safe climate suited lactating breeding hinds and their feed requirements during summer.

“We usually have great summer growth. We got dry this year; it was our worst drought ever.”

Since taking over Puketia, Malcolm has added another 300ha of deer fencing, taking the total now (on both blocks) to 640ha. The main deer yards are on the lease block, which is about 80% deer fenced.

“It’s just about up to where I want to be, but I’ve said that a few times,” Malcolm said. “I’ve got faith in the deer industry.”

Running three classes of stock allows for little down time on the farm. It does require more input into pasture management and traditionally quieter periods for one class of stock tend to be the busiest for another.

Malcolm manages most of the deer work himself, employing senior shepherd Luke Abbottwho spends most of his time working with sheep and cattle. 

Malcolm Rau said the typically summer safe country in the Koranga Valley was ideal for breeding hinds.

July scanning 

Following the roar in April, yearling hinds are pregnancy scanned in July to ensure no barren hinds are retained in the breeding herd. Malcolm said conception rates in red deer were good enough that it was not worthwhile scanning mixed-age hinds.

Almost 400 yearling hinds are scanned, with 30% selected as replacements. Through foetal ageing at scanning, the earlier fawners are given priority on replacement selection. They are also chosen on size, confirmation and temperament.

Achieving good temperament was a combination of ruthless culling and stockmanship, keeping the animals calm and stress free. Cull hinds are sent to the nearest venison processor, Silver Fern Farms in Rotorua, in August.

Stags are retained until their second velvet cut at 24 months. This is when replacements are selected for the velvet herd. Those surplus to requirements are finished and processed between mid-December and late January.

While a 60kg CW is ideal, Malcolm does not spend too much time drafting and weighing. Most of the stags are up to weight by then and need to leave the farm anyway, so focus can turn to other animals.

“We’re late country and cold country. I hold on to them longer than a lot of people so I can select replacements for the velvet herd.”

Breeding hinds are spread out in early October for fawning at 4.4 hinds/ha until mid-January.

They fawn 90% on average, although exceptional fawning weather in summer last year resulted in their highest result yet of 96%.

When fawns are old enough for shifting in mid-January, they go on a slow rotation in mobs of 250 hinds, shifted every two to three weeks.

Fawns are given a seven-in-one vaccine at fawn marking in March, plus a vaccination for Yersiniosis – a disease that can be brought on by stress. They receive both vaccinations again at weaning early in May.

Fawns are weaned in one mob on to grass for 10 days, then on to swedes for winter. Weaners are drenched every six to eight weeks, then sexed in November.

The only health treatment for breeding hinds is a seven-in-one vaccine pre-fawn and stags receive the vaccine early in spring.

Farm Facts

Owners: Malcolm and Caroline Rau

Location: Koranga Valley near Matawai, northwest of Gisborne

Size: 1000ha effective (own 600ha and lease 400ha).

Stock ratio: 35 deer: 35 sheep: 30 cattle

Stocking rate: 11.7 SU/ha

Contour:Mostly medium hill country

Deer numbers: 2478 red deer

Sheep numbers: 3287 Romdale ewes; 1340 Romdale ewe hoggets.

Cattle numbers: 185 MA Angus-Hereford cows; 100 two-year heifers, 85 one-year heifers.

Annual rain fall: 2500cm 

RED DEER NUMBERS:

Deer SU: 4500.

Total deer numbers: 2478

MA hinds: 718

Rising three-year hinds: 140

Rising two-year hinds: 340

Rising one-year hinds: 380

Rising three-year stags: 140

Rising two-year stags: 380

Rising one-year stags: 380.

Related stories: Velvet makes senseStock work together

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