Deer Industry Videos Inspire Best Practice

April 2015

NZ Landcare spread the message of best practice in the deer industry

Hawke’s Bay deer farmers Tim Aitken and Richard Hilson are two farmers who have told their story about sustainable land management practices in a series of new films released by the NZ Landcare Trust.

Sustainable farming practices within the deer industry will gain additional profile through the release of five video clips by NZ Landcare Trust which worked with deer farmers in Central Hawke’s Bay, capturing examples of good industry practices that are improving the environment.

The video clips can be accessed from the NZ Landcare Trust website or through links on the NZ Deer Industry website.

Janet Gregory, Regional Coordinator with NZ Landcare Trust and facilitator of the project says “This is part of a three year Sustainable Farming Fund project to get greater adoption of environmental best practice on deer farms. The videos are a key tool to promote what the farmers are doing in different parts of the country – tackling local issues and working with their council along with other agencies to improve farm systems.”

“It was great to have the support of farmers in Central Hawke’s Bay to produce the first videos. Unfortunately we had some awful weather at times but everyone pulled together and I’m very pleased with the result. I hope others gain motivation and ideas for what they can do on their properties,” she said.

Topics covered include catchment management, shelterbelts, gully management to reduce nutrient loss, measures to improve water quality and biodiversity, and animal health. Different options for improving soil and water management and reducing nutrient losses on different types of country are also covered in the videos, which is one of the biggest issues currently facing deer farmers.

Grant Charteris, Tim Aitken, Richard Lawson and Richard Hilson have been great supporters of the larger project which has involved Land Environment Plan (LEP) workshops, technical seminars and working with the Next Generation group and more remote deer farmers.

The focus for next year is on undertaking LEP 2 workshops which focus on land management units for farm planning, nutrient management and understanding Overseer. This will be of particular interest to many farmers who are now being required to know what nutrient levels their farms are leaching under the Overseer model. Workshops are planned for March and these will be advertised in early 2015.

The project is also supported by Deer Industry NZ, the NZ Deer Farmers Association and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and involves Beef + Lamb NZ, Ballance AgriNutrients and the regional councils in Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Canterbury and Southland.

Tim Aitken and Lucy Robertshawe farm 600 breeding hinds and run a finishing operation for Firstlight Venison at Tikokino.

The environmental work they have done on their farm focuses on water quality and biodiversity.

They have a self feeding silage pit, where they store 400 tonnes of spring harvested grass. During winter, 380 to 400 hinds are fed from the pit for 90 days. The pit area originally created a lot of mess and mud, so they put in sediment traps and fenced off the waterways leading out of the paddock. Now their deer will have three larger paddocks around the pit with 30 days in each, which should reduce the damage to pastures.

They also have a large dam they built five years ago which functions as a sediment trap from this area. They have planted 100 kahikatea and manuka and kanuka, as part of a planting of around 2000 trees, most of which are natives. “I used to cut manuka down as a kid,” Tim says. The sediment trap dam was positioned in wet area in a paddock and the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council helped fund the work.

Tim and Lucy also have an 8 ha block of bush fenced off which they protected in 1993 with the Department of Conservation in a covenant. “We couldn’t get the hinds out of there, so we decided to fence it, and DOC helped with the fencing, so the area is protected for life.”

Pest control in the last 15 to 20 years has resulted in fantastic bird life, with mobs of 30 to 40 kereru, 20 to 30 tui, as well as kaka, bellbirds and falcon. The bird numbers are a direct result of not having possums, Tim says.

Richard Hilson and his wife Karen farm 300 hinds, 50 to 60 velveting stags and 800 ewes on a 220ha deer farm at Takapau. Previously a sheep farm, Richard says it was like a blank canvas, so they took fences down to redesign the property.

They planted lots of shelterbelts, but he says they didn’t pay enough attention at the time to waterway protection, which they are doing more of now.

They used a wide range of species, trying out poplars, willows, flaxes, eucalypts, tree lucerne, alders, fruit trees, acacia, deciduous trees and oaks. Some species grew much better than others, depending on whether they liked the soil and moisture conditions. Poplars and flaxes planted together worked well to stop wind erosion as well and are now 12 years old, providing good semi-permeable shelter.

They put gates into the shelter so they could tend the trees. After taking good care of the trees in the first year after planting, they haven’t done much more except look at them since then, he says.

They have used pampas in the past, but although it made a good shelterbelt at the time, it now has blackberry in it which is difficult to control. “You can grow weeds without even trying.”

Totara and cabbage trees have been successful together.

Richard has learnt that every tree has a use-by date. Thirty five year old Matsudana willows along a creek have cost a lot of money to clean up because they were blown over in winds. Because they were next to a creek, their roots didn’t go very deep, so they were more susceptible to wind throw when the soils were moist compared with other species.

It’s quite possible the next generation will have to pay the cost of cleaning up the trees which were planted, so it’s a good idea to consider how that will occur when planning new plantings, he says. “You need access to get chainsaws in and trucks nearby to clean up trees.”

He’s also planted willow poles in the middle of paddocks to provide shade for stock.

The next stage of protection work on the farm is fencing off a waterway as part of the Regional Council’s Plan Change 6 process.

“We are aiming to spend $10,000 to fence off the sides of two paddocks, but the flip side of this is that we will potentially save two or three fawns a year by doing that.”

The stream used to meander through a flax swamp 100 years ago, but now the flax is gone, and the stream meanders more, moving quite a bit of soil from its banks in high flow periods.

Richard plans to use sheep to graze the area after it is fenced off from the deer.

On a second film clip he talks about best practice for animal health, and how it is important to feed stock well so that they are not susceptible to parasites.  Best practice is to only drench young stock, and not the adults, and to vaccinate against Yersinia. “We make use of plantain and kale to keep our stock well fed and healthy. We put more focus on a good animal rather than using a lot of products.”

Feeding animals well and avoiding putting them under stress are key. Best practice is about risk mitigation, he says, and identifying what you should do or could do.