Each year from mid-August surplus animals from their trophy stag trading business are supplemented with Reliance Deer Elite nuts to help boost antler production.
Russell McWhirter says they began feeding around 500g nuts/day along with good-quality baleage immediately after the rut to pack weight back on to the stags.
“It gets them pumped and ready for velvet production.”
Nut rations are stepped up to 1kg/head two weeks before button drop, then to 1.5kg/head by mid-September.
“It’s probably more than would be necessary in a commercial velvet situation, but it suits what we do.”
A trial three years ago, initiated by CRT, quantified the benefits of feeding nuts to trophy stags. Thirty mixed-age stags left over from the previous hunting season and with detailed antler records were returned to the McWhirter property and under instruction from animal nutritionist Wybe Kuperus were supplemented with nuts.
“A lot jumped 20 inches (in antler) and the velvet was definitely heavier; overall it was a good result and it convinced us to carry on doing what we’re doing,” Russell says.
It costs about $250 to supplement a stag with nuts and lift it from a silver medal to gold medal standard animal.
“It’s worthwhile for us in a trophy animal situation but there are a lot of variables that come into play and a farmer would have to do his homework … in a commercial velvet situation it would only be worthwhile doing if velvet prices increased.”
Russell, along with his parents Murray and Jan, source and supply 200 to 300 trophy stags each year for outfitters throughout the country. The yearly cycle begins in October when outfitters contact Murray with their trophy animal requirements. During November and December Murray and Russell visit farmers to view possible trophy stags, score and photograph them.
Russell transports stags to clients throughout the South Island from mid-January until the start of the roar in the first week of March. North Island deliveries are handled by Downlands Deer.
The McWhirters began leasing the Crown Terrace property three years ago, before the global financial fallout, with the idea of plugging a shortfall in trophy stags. When the financial screws came on, demand for trophy hunts – and trophy stags – fell but they kept buying in extra stags and now usually run between 50 and 60 a year.