Solway Deer Farm

November 2014

Riparian management at Solway Deer Farm continues a family tradition for Shelley Trotter

Solway Deer Farm was the recipient of a national riparian management award from Deer Industry NZ in 2011. 

Solway Farm is owned and run by Shelley Trotter. Part of the 265ha farm is the property that Shelley grew up on and about 19 years ago she bought the neighbouring farm which was running deer. The vendor asked Shelley if she wanted to buy the deer as well. “At that time the beef schedule was around $2 and the deer was $5 and I went ‘yep, sure’ and it was all a steep learning curve from there.”

The farm is home to a herd of 1600 red deer as a combined breeding and finishing operation. There are around 660 hinds. Shelley says that although she didn’t know much about deer 20 years ago, she has grown to love farming them. She and manager Tony Ward have learnt how to domesticate the deer in that time but it was a tough process to start with.

When she first took on the deer she had young babies so she got the farm newspapers and read them from cover to cover. She says she read the deer farming magazine and followed the farm schedule that was printed in that, so whatever was suggested for a particular month was followed. “So if it said do this or that, we’d go oh yeah, we will do that then”.

Mustering wise she says she’s developed a system of leading rather than chasing stock around the paddock.   She doesn’t rush anything to do with deer – weaning takes a week or more, rather than a few days.

The farm contracts to supply venison from August until January. The deer are managed in their age groups to encourage quiet social behaviour. Most of the animal movement is organised around maize as an enticement to get the animals shifted. Tony or Shelly move stock with a small maize hopper. There are no dogs used.

The farm runs heifers to provide some protection on fragile soils and challenging winter conditions. The heifers also have a role developing quality pasture for the deer.

Shelley says she was at the recent deer industry conference. She feels the schedule needs to improve or the national deer herd will keep shrinking. She says that unless returns improve, deer farmers will lose out to competing land uses.

The farm operates with a strong environmental focus. Solway has been a key part of the district’s Mahurangi Action plan that was funded through the Auckland Regional Council and the Rodney District Council. The primary aim is to reduce sedimentation and nutrient overload entering the nearby estuary, the spawning ground for a number of marine and freshwater species and a key location for oyster farming.

Shelley has a strong background in environmental science. She has organised riparian planting with a view to an overall enhancement of her waterways. There have been successful community plantings on the property in spite of being told by the experts that the community planting days weren’t successful and that strike rates for plantings on those days weren’t that good. She had mostly families with young kids helping her and they had three and four year olds planting trees, and they got the most amazing strike rates.