Anne Hardie

Deer have been the biggest challenge environmentally onfarm for Claire Parkes and Simon Vincent and adding Wantwood into the farming operation six years ago enabled them to reduce the pressure on Castledowns which had been quite heavily stocked (See page 29).

They can also now graze a mix of stock on the deer paddocks when needed to improve pasture which in turn benefits the deer.

Today they run about 280 mixed-age red hinds on the steeper hills, 300 or so velveting stags on the better paddocks and buy in about 600 weaners each year from three long-term suppliers to add to about 270 non-replacements bred on the farm. About half the 800 weaners they finish are ready for the chilled market between mid-October and mid-November.

In the past couple of years they have used fodder beet to finish the weaners and Tom says it puts more weight on the animals, with less land in crop. Instead of planting 20 hectares in rape as they did in the past, they now plant 8ha in fodder beet for better results.

“Fodder beet is a wee bit more expensive than rape – about $2700/ha compared with about $1000/ha – but we were getting 70g per day weight gain on the weaners through winter from the rape and now it’s about 140g from fodder beet. So a big gain from less area.”

Costs depend on Olsen P levels of the paddock, because unless you pick your best paddock for fodder beet, you may have to spend more on fertiliser to get Olsen P levels up, he says.

The hinds get a rape and ryegrass mix sown for summer to keep lactation going at a time pasture is drying off and losing quality.

“That’s one of the issues with breeding hinds,” Claire says.

“They don’t suit the Nelson grass growth curve. But we know what our replacements are and they’re not random culls from other people.”

After nearly four decades in the deer industry, they have that side of the business humming and continue to make environmental improvements on the unit. In 2017 they won the First Light Award in the 2017 Deer Farmers’ Environmental Awards and have completed 6km of fencing erected solely for environmental protection around streams and wet areas.

The environmental plan they initially created through the NZ Deer Farmers’ Association has been extended to incorporate the sheep and beef aspects of the business. Wantwood is quite bare of trees and Claire says that will become a focus in view of the Zero Carbon Act.

Going forward environmentally, Claire views zero carbon as their biggest issue because numerous plantings already on the farm won’t be recognised under the Zero Carbon Act proposals and she says it will encourage the wrong trees in the wrong place.

“We got someone to do a basic budget early on and that block of forestry put us pretty much carbon neutral. But we don’t get the benefit of the grass we grow and native bush. That’s stolen from farmers and that’s the unfairness of it that people in the city have no idea about.

“We have a major creek area and with the Zero Carbon Bill that will get planted in trees that will be counted for it, whereas we would have put more flaxes and natives which would have been more environmentally beneficial. Now we have to put in more faster growing, taller trees and it will be more for carbon capture rather than water quality.”

Tree blocks will need to be at least 1ha, so Claire says they would be better planting a corner of the farm in trees rather than looking for the sites that would benefit tree planting.

“There’s so many little areas on the farm like those for shelter and shade, but it won’t count.”