Better deer health can lift profits

Some herds have undiagnosed health issues, says Dr Mandy Bell.
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Some herds have undiagnosed health issues, says Dr Mandy Bell.

Deer farmers are being encouraged to have a close look at their animal health as part of the Passion2Profit initiative.

The scheme aims to improve deer farm profits by developing new high-value markets for venison and removing barriers to performance on the farm.

The initiative, which has just won funding support from the government's Primary Growth Partnership, already has several activities underway.

"Animal health, feeding and genetics are the three big areas where farmers can influence the profits they make from deer," says Deer Industry NZ chief executive Dan Coup.

"In the 11 Advance Parties we now have underway, farmers help each other to exploit opportunities in each of these areas. The first of these groups are already achieving good results for the farmers involved.

"Next out of the blocks is Clean Bill of Health, which focuses on the impact animal health issues can have on deer performance."

P2P Advisory Group chairwoman Dr Mandy Bell, a Central Otago deer farmer and veterinarian, says deer are low- input animals.

"This is one of their great attractions from a farming point of view and no-one wants to change that. But you can't just turn them out after say, weaning, forget about them and expect great results.

"Every farm is different, but case studies show that health issues can have a big impact on fawning percentages, survival rates and growth rates. With a few well-timed interventions as part of a customised deer health programme, it is possible to greatly improve farm profits.

"Before P2P was developed, the industry took a hard look at farm profitability. Deer health was identified as an area where a lot of money was being left on the table."

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DINZ and the deer branch of the Veterinary Association have prioritised eight health issues that are having a negative impact on deer performance on many farms.

Bell says the first stage of the campaign is to make farmers aware that animal health is not just a cost centre - it's an area with potential for increasing farm profit.

Information is being assembled to help them recognise whether an issue is present on their farm, and if it is, what to do about it.

Later in the year the focus will shift to animal health planning.

"All farmers want to maximise the profitability of their deer. But some of them will have undiagnosed animal health issues in their herds which - if they were addressed pro-actively - would give herd performance and profits a big boost.

"Farmers typically see vets as an emergency service, called in when an animal health issue has blown up. The ideal is for farmers and vets to work together in a more proactive way, with customised deer health plans developed and reviewed annually. Part of this involves weighing the costs of veterinary advice against improvements in farm profitability."

Advance Parties are co-funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries Sustainable Farming Fund and DINZ.

CASE STUDIES

Mandy Bell cites two recent case studies as examples of deer farmers using customised animal health plans to boost their farm's bottom line:

FARM 1

The farmer contacted their vet about Johne's disease. A risk assessment was carried out and an animal health plan developed. This involved monitoring and management of all diseases, not just Johne's, with veterinary input. Each year the plan has been reviewed. After three years:

Deaths are down from 13 per cent to 2.2 per cent. In-calf percentages are up from 80 per cent to 94.5 per cent. Weaning rates have increased from 70 per cent to 89 per cent.

Bell says these increases in performance are the result of a planned approach to animal health, not just the treatment of the one disease.

FARM 2

This well-managed 10,500 SU farm has an annual animal health plan. In the last year its focus has been on reducing input costs through increased monitoring.

As a result, animal health costs have reduced by 25 per cent, or $9082. This could not have been achieved without careful monitoring and veterinary involvement, says Bell.

 - Stuff.co.nz

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