Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Trying new systems

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The dry summer forced an experiment with the farming systems of North Island deer farmer, dairy farmer and veterinarian Ian Scott. Ian runs a 1200 Wapiti and Red deer farm in the heart of the Waikato. The operation is driven by a maize cropping farm which, combined with winter annual ryegrass, harvests over 30,000kg DM/ha annually. The traditionally wet, humid weather in the region lends itself to good pasture growth, but brings with it the challenges of parasites, ryegrass staggers and facial eczema. This summer, one of the worst droughts in history added to the list of challenges, Ian said. “There has been a period of 110 days where we have been down from the average 40kg DM/day growth.
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“We didn’t even get the odd shower to keep things alive.”

The lack of grass led Ian to delay weaning for the first time in 30 years of deer farming, in the hope that a higher input system for the hinds and calves would pay off in consistent conception dates and better growth rates.

“We would have been taking the calves off the mother and feeding them 100% supplement, and that would just be another check on their growth rates.”

Traditionally, Ian has kept away from post-rut weaning, since research from trials in the Hawke’s Bay indicated that it could push birth back by 10 days, but he had always wondered if the delayed conception and more dries were the result of inadequate nutrition, not lactational anoestrus.

“I have a sneaky suspicion the late conception date was because in autumn there is not enough quality pasture to adequately feed lactating hinds.”

He said the drought had pushed him to try out the theory that increasing feed quality and quantity would solve the problems commonly associated with delayed weaning.

“We calculated the increased energy demand of the lactating hinds, allowed for extra growth on the calves, converted this to MJ ME, and fed it out as supplements of known quality each day.

“Just like with my dairy cows the energy has to go in to get production out.”

Whether the theory will work is yet to be proven. Ian will be keeping a close eye on the scans.

“That’s the acid test of what we’ve done, and we will be trying to get a good handle on conception dates. We even did artificial insemination with the calves on for the first time.”

In the meantime, he said, the impact of delayed weaning on the fawns had been significant.

“There are lots of ways to farm deer smarter, which I’ll start putting to trial.”

“In autumn, pre-rut weaned calves would usually achieve growth rates of 100 to 150g a day.

“Currently we are measuring growth rates of calves at 300 to 350-plus grams a day for the Wapiti and 230 to 270 in the Reds. That is without a blade of green grass.”

Ian also thought early weaning might have led to an increase in parasite problems: “I was struggling to control parasites, especially the constant challenge of high larval intakes.”

He said that observing “nature’s system”, where fawns stay on their mothers longer, might provide unknown biological protection through milk and lowered stress levels, as well as preventing unnecessary pasture parasite contamination and build-up.

The low levels of fungal spores and parasites have been “some of the rare drought positives”.

“We have had no parasite problem in the Wapiti hinds during the drought, and because we’ve intensively fed the cows right through, they were in great condition for mating.”

Now that the rain has arrived, the challenge might be back.

“The biggest challenge of the drought is what’s happening now. The pastures are littered with faecal pellets which have not broken down, and the rain has produced a massive release of parasite larvae.

“Haemonchus is a real problem for me now that it has rained.”

Those challenges are what will keep the vet trying new systems; Ian said he still had plenty of ideas up his sleeve.

“Last summer there was grass everywhere, but we kept feeding our maiden hinds maize silage and palm kernel over mating. For the first time ever we had 100% conception in first calvers and 96-98% in MA hinds on the home farm.

“At the end of the day there are lots of ways to farm deer smarter, which I’ll start putting to trial.”

If they end up paying off in better animal performance, Ian may have a few more things to thank the drought for. 

  • See article about Ian Scott Country-Wide June 2012, p70.
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