New Zealand deer breeders world leaders

GETTING AHEAD: Renowned red deer stud breeder Clive Jermy with antlers of sire stag Herbrand at different ages – part of his collection of hundreds of heads.
Fairfax NZ
GETTING AHEAD: Renowned red deer stud breeder Clive Jermy with antlers of sire stag Herbrand at different ages – part of his collection of hundreds of heads.

Genetic gains in New Zealand's farmed deer show no sign of levelling off despite tremendous advancements in antler and animal size in the last 30 years, says renowned stud breeder Clive Jermy.

January 6, 2015, not only marks the 30th anniversary sale of his Stanfield's European Red Deer Stud, but it will also be the last, following the decision to sell the stud operation. For the last six years the stud has been based at Bangor, near Darfield.

The stud has played an influential role since 1982 when Jermy secured the franchise for genetics from the great English deer parks Woburn Abbey and Warnham Park.

"Those two parks have done more for genetic advancement than any other and no-one would argue with that. They are not the only good deer from Britain and Europe, but in terms of influence they are unrivalled."

Jermy also likes to breed big deer, with some red deer antlers now coming close in size to those of larger elk.

In 30 years of breeding, New Zealand has surpassed all known European red deer antler records - many by the Stanfield's stud. "So it's very exciting to be part of that and there is no end in sight in terms of genetic gains."

Over the whole industry, national average velvet weights have more than doubled from 2kg to at least 4kg.

"There have been amazing genetic advances at the top end - the studs and high end commercial farmers - but the trick is to get the whole industry benefitting. On one level it is, but there is a long way between commercial and top end herds. That's the challenge.

"There is a lot for the average farmer to reach for and gain. It's not just what's the price of venison, or what's the price of velvet, it is also whether we are the best deer farmers we can be."

Initially operating the Stanfield's stud at Cambridge from 1984 to 1999, Clive and his wife Elsie then moved to Bushey Park near Palmerston in East Otago until 2008. The 1000ha property enabled them to expand their operation, with 1000 velveting stags, 750 breeding hinds for venison, 250 breeding hinds for velvet replacements, in addition to the red deer studs, an eastern European stud and hereford cattle stud.

As Bangor is just 125ha, plus some leased land, only the red deer stud was continued following the move there.

"That is what gets our blood boiling - antlers and genetics - it's what I enjoy the most."

The Woburn hind herd and part of the Warnham herd have been purchased by Mount Cecil Safaris, Waimate, owned by the Fraser family. The herds will be used to supply the trophy hunting business. Donald and Kathy Hudson, Geraldine, and Pampas Heights Red Deer Stud, Rotorua, owned by Bryce Heard, have purchased the balance of Stanfield's Warnham herd.

Breeding sires and younger stags will be sold individually at the January sale at Bangor. "Everybody's coming from everywhere. Hopefully we will see some good prices.

"It's a wrench. There is only two or three times we have not led the market in 29 years, including 27 years in the row, so it's a unique record. But it's a huge amount of satisfaction seeing the genetic advancement within the herd."

A deer antler museum and selling complex at Bangor contains hundreds of heads, both on the walls and in storage, including several red deer world records.

This includes Hotspur (Woburn and Warnham genetics) who held the world record for nine years for weight of antler at 23.4kg. The record, 23.7kg, is now held by the stag, Woburn Oak, sold by Stanfield's to Donald and Leigh Whyte, Edendale Station, Mid-Canterbury. Both share the same father, Woburn Bedford.

Herbrand (pure Woburn) was the first stag to go over 600 Safari Club International (SCI) points, at 645 points. Jermy hopes Norton II, from semen imported from Warnham Park, will top 700 SCI points as an eight-year-old. "At the moment there is only one stag over 700 SCI points."

Endsleigh (pure Woburn) was the first 60 pointer.

He also has high hopes for Bangor, a three-year-old. "I like deer in terms of thickness of antler for their age, as well as points. He's a real beauty, but has got to be sold, sadly." Another young stag had 6kg of spikers as a one-year- old, and will be for sale as a two- year-old.

"There are very famous collections in Europe of red deer antlers going back hundreds of years. What Europe doesn't have, that we have now, are our world records. Suddenly, in the last 10 years, New Zealand breeding has become far superior to what is happening in Europe.

"A lot of heads are in storage that don't fit on the walls. So we have to decide what will happen to the museum, but I'd like to keep it together. Having the collection as part of an existing agricultural tourism enterprise could be an option."

The Jermys have retained a velveting herd, share-farmed on the West Coast and Waimate, which they will continue to expand. They will also retain their linkages with Warnham Park and Woburn Abbey, importing semen, as well as taking on a consultancy role.

China has become the dominant player in the procurement, processing and distribution of deer velvet. It was also becoming a growing consumer, along with traditional buyer South Korea. Velvet was also increasingly being consumed as a functional food or supplement, even in Asia. This trend provided an opportunity to add value to velvet within New Zealand.

Involved in the industry since deer farming's pioneering days, Jermy is a former Deer Industry New Zealand chairman who, after a seven-year gap, was re-elected to the board in June. "I believed I could still make a contribution."

He believes prospects are exciting. "Deer are in a position they have never been before with multi-faceted venison and velvet marketing strategies, and while the market outlook is good you will always have highs and lows."

The Press