Country-Wide writers asked farmers how their year panned out and what they intend to do next year.


On the Peck family’s South Canterbury farm 400 stags were velveted this year. That’s about 100 more than when Country-Wide visited in 2018, and the maximum number Graham and son Duncan can comfortably velvet around the demands of tractor work and the AI of heifers during November.

Since 2018 velvet weights have increased which Graham puts down mostly to genetics rather than feeding.

“The trials we carried out as part of our Advance Party convinced us that we don’t need to feed out grain or nuts unless we’re short of grass. We don’t think we’re missing out and it saves us money.”

The Pecks’ primary farm income is from dairy heifer trading and velvet stags, with secondary flexible income streams from beef cattle and ewe trading. They buy in up to 40 two-year-old commercial stags every year for the velvet herd. The second-string stags have created a profitable and reasonably straight forward velvet system.

Looking back on the year that’s been Graham says it’s been a seven out of 10 for the deer side of the business. Their velvet-focused deer operation has largely escaped the fallout from Covid-19.

“It’s been uncomfortable for us seeing how other deer farmers have been affected. There’s been a lot of pain and I think deer farmers have been very stoic.”

There aren’t great changes planned on the family’s Sterndale Valley farm, near Pleasant Point, although Graham will continue to step back while Duncan takes on more.

Graham will be busy enough in his chairman role of the South Canterbury and North Otago Deer Farmers Association (SCNO). Coming up is a joint presentation in conjunction with the Canterbury and West Coast DFA to ECan on proposed Plan Change 7 to the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan. Battling bureaucracy and immersion into environmental politics is not something he signed up for when he took on the DFA chairman’s role.

Too busy for boating

At Waimumu, near Gore Warren and Gary Ross had an above average year production-wise. The weather and growth season picked up especially during lockdown.

“We were busy and got a lot of things down, the downside was that we couldn’t go boating,” Warren says.

The good growing season was reflected in velvet weights.

“There’s been plenty of heavy, thick velvet getting up around 10kgs so we’re happy with that.”

The dampener was venison prices, although Warren is reasonably confident they will pick up in the long term. A limited number of weaners were sent for processing during the spring chilled venison season, and as many as possible were offloaded thereafter in anticipation of a further dive in price.

Country-Wide profiled the Ross family’s deer, beef and dairy grazing enterprise in 2016 after altering feeding and management to control Johne’s which had struck young Red hinds during 2012-13. One of the changes was the introduction of fodder beet for the winter feeding of hinds as an adjunct to a woodlot feed pad system.

The beet reduced the number of lighter weight younger hinds at the end of winter, many of which were JD suspects. The growing of beet also sped up pasture replacement, and the improved younger and higher quality pastures have also helped better maintain hind condition.

Sugar beet was about to be trialled, on the recommendation of Gary’s son-in-law, the idea being to lift the bulbs in autumn and feed it as a supplement with grass. Last year they fed 250 tonnes, half to the velvet stags in spring, and the remainder to hinds and fawns.

“We don’t think it made a big difference to velvet growth, but we had some of the best condition hinds and heaviest fawns at weaning and think that was partly due to the sugar beet.”

The problem is the lack of suitable flatland necessary for harvester access to lift the crop, which is why they haven’t sown any this year. However, buying lifted beet in as an option they might follow up.

More of the same is planned for 2021 although Warren is concerned about the ever-changing goalposts of environmental regulations.

“It’s a bit of a concern but we’re all in this together.”

Outside of working hours Warren, chairman of the Southern Field Days, is busy preparing for the 2022 event.

Positive spin-off

The conversion of a redundant woolshed for indoor wintering of weaners at the Hamilton family’s farm near Winton, was a positive spin-off from the Covid lockdown.

The idea of indoor wintering was discussed by members of the Southland Elk Wapiti Advance Party that John Hamilton chairs. He’d been thinking about indoor wintering for a while and the impetus to follow through was the loss of a neighbouring 24ha lease block in autumn which would have increased grazing pressure on the rolling hill country.

The Hamiltons converted the woolshed using home-milled timber to construct a two-pen wintering shed with scales and a load out ramp.

This year 57 weaner stags were wintered indoors for 129 days. They were fed lucerne hay and crushed barley and achieved daily average growth of 210g. The plan was to send the weaners from the shed to slaughter but they ended up on grass for a week because of a shortage of processing space. It was a slight glitch and overall John’s pleased with the first year result.

“In the past we’ve wintered the weaners on grass which is difficult at times. Having the shed has saved pasture and made things a lot easier.”