Fallow farewell for deer pioneer

CHANGING FOCUS: St Andrews deer farmer Alistair Midgley is changing is deer breeding focus.
CHANGING FOCUS: St Andrews deer farmer Alistair Midgley is changing is deer breeding focus.

Alistair Midgley's association with fallow deer began in 1969 when as a hunter, he came across two fallow fawns and took them home to his St Andrews property.

Fast forward to 2014 and Alistair now has one of the biggest herds of this gentle species of deer which he is gradually dispersing to concentrate on his red deer herd. Because of the then restrictions on keeping exotic animals such as chamois, tahr, red and fallow deer on-farm, Mr Midgley required a permit for the fawns from the New Zealand Forest Service.

"They issued me a permit which gave me "B" Class zoo status," he said.

"Every six months, someone from the Forest Service would come out and inspect my fencing."

As the female fawns grew, Mr Midgley looked for a suitable mate for the pair and took them up to Albury where a friend had a fallow stag.

From that point, the fallow deer herd has bred on, peaking at around 1100 animals and Alistair has now begun dispersing a herd which currently numbers around 350 animals.

"Over the past 35 years, we have sold about 3000 stags to trophy safari parks throughout New Zealand and the demand is still strong, particularly with hunters from the United States," Mr Midgley said.

Fallow deer have a long history and have been in the United Kingdom for around 800 years.

They were spread across central Europe by the Romans and although they were thought to have been introduced to Great Britain and Ireland for hunting in the royal forests by the Normans, it has subsequently been found that they arrived in southern England in the 1st century AD.

There are long standing wild populations in Britain.

Mr Midgley says the species is also quite common in New Zealand, but can be difficult to handle so few people bother with them, preferring the red deer.

"Some people started out with them, but have gone to other breeds," he said.

"Our management strategies with the fallow deer have worked for us."

Unlike other deer species, Mr Midgley says fallow deer are not kept for their velvet.

"We don't cut the antlers like red or wapiti deer so that is a downside of the breed," he said.

"We have entered competitions with fallow antlers and have won several awards including overall winner of the hard antler section, across all species, at the National Hard Antler competition in Invercargill in 2005.

"The antler shape is similar to a moose and is very attractive."

With the dispersal of the fallow deer from his Willowbrook Stud underway, Alistair Midgley says the animals, which are being slaughtered at the Mountain River Processing Plant at Rakaia, have proved to be free of parasites.

"They have an easy care health regime and don't require worming," he said.

"I have been around these beautiful and intelligent animals for many years and certainly have no regrets. It has been a fantastic journey. Trophy stags bred at my stud have been sold throughout New Zealand.

"The future focus for Willowbrook is the red deer herd and my ambition is to breed the best red deer trophy stags in New Zealand and match these stags against other studs," he said.

Fairfax Media