Examples of Advance Party Projects
Examples of Advance Party Projects
As well as project reports, members of Advance Parties are regulalry telling others about what they have been up to, which is oftern covered in the rural press. in 2015, around 20 farmers shared what they were up to in newspapers and deer industry publications.
Stuart Farm - Te Anau
Does the regular yarding, weighing and sorting of weaners in the lead up to slaughter suppress weaner growth rates? At Landcorp’s Stuart Farm in the Te Anau basin some weaners are yarded four to five times before being sent for slaughter over the August to mid-November period. Staff suspected that the regular yarding was causing stress and pegging back growth rates judging by the appearance of some weaners as the season progressed. There was no hard and fast data to support this observation and theory so manager Mark Bolger set up a trial to see if some facts would support their gut feeling. Last year the main mob of Red-wapiti weaners was separated into three mixed-sex mobs, all of which had an average liveweight of 83.5 kgs at the start of the trial in early August 2015. The first mob of 200 was weighed fortnightly with no new animals introduced as prime weight weaners were drafted off. The second mob, also of 200, was weighed every six weeks, again with no new animals introduced. A third mob was weighed fortnightly and topped up with replacement weaners as prime weight animals were drafted off.
As the trial played out and individual weights were recorded and analysed the reason for the slowing in growth rates of the fortnightly weighed animals became obvious – and not for the reason originally thought.
“The heaviest and fastest growing weaners were killed off first and the ones remaining were lighter so had lower actual growth rates which reduced the overall rate of growth average as the season progressed. In effect it demonstrated that what we were seeing was correct but not for the reason we suspected,” Mark says
Although the trial didn’t conclusively prove any stress-reduced growth rate link Mark and the team have introduced new management to reduce the frequency of yarding and possible stresses that might inhibit growth. This year the weaners were sorted pre-winter into top, mid, and light weight mobs. When the post-winter weighing started in August only the top weight mobs were yarded over the first month, with the mid and lighter weight mobs following on as the season progressed.
“Instead of weighing 3000 weaners each time we’re weighing about 1000 initially and reducing the numbers in the top weight mobs before moving on to the next. It saves time and means each weaner is not being yarded as many times.”
The yarding frequency and growth rate trial will be run again in 2017 with replacement yearling hinds.
“Weighing the same animals each time will give us a true indication on how or if yarding affects growth.”
Stuart Farm - Te Anau
Yearly recalibration of hand-held readers and scanners is just one measure taken as a result of an Advance Party project aimed at improving deer counting accuracy at Landcorp’s Stuart Farm, near Te Anau. Manager Mark Bolger says a reliable count of the number of deer on hand is a bottom line requirement.
“We have to get stock reconciliation right because it has a big bearing on our feed budgets, reproductive and financial performance.”
But getting an accurate tally was proving to be easier said than done. In theory the scanning of EID deer tags should make the counting process straightforward and fail-proof. But Mark started questioning the accuracy of the electronic technology for counting, suspecting that mob sizes were being under-recorded in some situations. In 2015 he embarked on a project as part of being in the deer industry Southland Advance Party to compare the accuracy of EID with manual counting. His objectives were to find out the most reliable counting method and secondly the reasons for any EID-related counting discrepancies.
Over the year a number of different manual and EID-based counting strategies were tried and compared when deer were brought into the sheds. During 2016 pregnancy scanning counts were taken five different ways; two electronically and three manually. This included two people counting pen by pen within the shed, and another counting as they exited the shed in a single file plus electronic recording as the deer moved over the scales. The comparison exercises showed a 2% discrepancy between the electronic and manual count systems. Mark says two people manually counting the deer immediately prior to leaving the deer shed proved to be the most accurate method, giving a consistent result that could be rechecked with the two counts taken within the deer shed. The findings surprised Mark.
“I was surprised at the variance and that the EID way was less reliable. I thought it would have been the other way around.”
Further investigation of the causes for the less than accurate performance of electronic counting revealed that lost and unread tags were contributors. Sixty of the 4,800 hinds at scanning had lost tags.
“Some tags were damaged and didn’t read, and some others possibly weren’t read because of the animal’s head positioning when scanned.”
Another discovery was that the reading distance of the two hand-held wands and two panel readers reduced as the season progressed, making recalibration necessary.
Mark admits this was painstaking and time consuming, but reckons it was a worthwhile project that has assured him of reliable reproduction figures and conservatively uncovered another $50,000-plus of breeding hinds.
“The 2% discrepancy doesn’t sound a lot but for us it’s another 96 breeding hinds which at $500-600 each adds up.”
At a glance:
Stuart Farm, Landcorp
Effective area 2,721ha
Stock on hand (July 2016)
Deer (60% Red, 40% Red/wapiti)
R1yr hinds 1,760
R2yr Hinds 620
MA Hinds 3,550
R1yr Stags 1,764
Breeding stags 360
Weaning weight (ave) 65.7kg
Weaning date 2015 17 April
Mated MA ewes and hoggets 6,550
R1 & R2 steers/heifers 767
In-calf MA cows and heifers 411
Fairlight Station - Southland
Stags removed on 1 April to condense mating results in earlier finishing.
Killing more deer during the chilled season is the result of a project that Simon Wright has worked on at Fairlight Station. Simon is part of the Southland Advance Party. By mating more hinds than he intends to fawn, and removing the stags early, Simon moves average conception date forward, resulting in more deer heavier, earlier. The manager of the northern Southland farm has had his sights set on producing a 65kg average pre-Xmas carcass. Joining the Southland Advance Party has given further impetus to make it happen. “It’s probably more about condensing our fawning rather than fawning earlier, but I’m keen to explore the relationship between weaning date and conception date because I want to avoid that tail-end of fawns. I’m aiming for a 1 April removal of stags but that will be a year-to-year decision based on seasonal conditions.”
It’s been a steady and gradual process that’s brought forward fawning by 5 – 10 days. The starting benchmark was a 25 February/1 March until 20 April joining period; but last year the stags came out on 10th April whereas this year (2016) it was 15 April. Shifting forward by 10 days the date of stag removal reduced pregnancy scanning results from 97% to 94% but Simon says that was a small price to pay. “To me that is immaterial and we culled those hinds from the herd.”
Simon admits he’s found it difficult at times to bite the bullet and take the stag out earlier than in previous years which is part of the reason why he has an over-mating policy.
“I’ve allowed for extra dries by mating more hinds than I plan to winter. We scan early and if there are dries they’re sent away immediately and any surplus in-fawn hinds are sold.”
In another management move aimed at producing earlier and heavier weaners, hinds and fawns are strategically fed pre and/or post-weaning or in spring with supplements and grain if feed conditions are tight.
“This year the spring has been great so we haven’t bothered.”
So what about the results to date?
2014-15: 80% were killed pre-Xmas @ 62kg (1st kill Oct 22nd)
2015- 16: 96% killed pre-Xmas @ 58kg (1st kill Sept 15th)
2016-17: 52% killed by 1 Nov @ 61kg (1st kill Sept 22th)
The kill date moved forward one month from 2014 to 2015, although the carcase weight average was under 60kg reflecting the dry summer and autumn & cold spring.
“It proves that you can calve earlier and condense it but to capitalise on earlier fawning with heavier weaning weights feeding cannot be compromised; we had a dry summer at Fairlight last season which was reflected in lower weaning weights. The good news is that this year’s weaners are on track to be about 4kg heavier.” Simon will continue to condense the mating period and work towards the 1 April goal. And in another move to move fawning forward he’s started selecting for earlier fawners from Fairlight Station’s elite mob of 400 hinds. “When I consistently kill 65kgCW animals in October I’ll be happy.”
At a glance:
Manager: Simon and Lou Wright
Owners Doug and Mari Harpur
2400 ha (effective) mostly deer fenced
500ha flats, remainder hill country rising to 900 m asl
Deer: 1950 Red-based hinds
Focus is weaner breeding and finishing for pre-Xmas market
Sheep: 3500 Perendale-base ewes plus 1000 mated hoggets
Beef cows: 470 breeding cows plus replacement heifers
For more information on hind mating management click here.
Des Forde, Balfour.
Reducing the number of fawn deaths by improving the pasture cover in fawning paddocks has been a success judging by a first year trial at Deer Improvement’s Balfour farm. Farm manager Des Ford says the intensive farming system with little natural cover is a risk factor for new-born fawns who sometimes wander, poke their way through fences and end up separated from mum and die. But a timely discussion of the problem at a 2014 Advance Party meeting led to some positive action and change. Advance Party members suggested Des try longer pastures pre-fawning to provide much needed cover for fawns. Taking this advice on board Des targeted pasture cover in the 2015 fawning blocks of about 2,500kg/DM/ha rather than the 1600kg/DM/ha of previous years. The hinds, as is the usual practice, were run at a conservative 6su/ha because of the condensed fawning due to AI which is used across most of the breeding herd. The opportunity cost was an estimated 150,000kg/DM less for silage in November. Des also had to tidy up the pastures once the fawns are on their feet by making balage to either sell to dairy farmers or supplementary fed to stags on swedes over winter. But the overall goal of improved fawn survivability was achieved.
“We usually get 90% weaning (fawns from pregnant hinds) on flat paddocks but I managed to sneak that up a couple of percent last year.”
He’ll be repeating the management this year. “Our fawning is variable for year to year, so if we can keep that consistent result over the next couple of years I’ll be happy.”
For information on fawning management go to: www.deernz.org/deerhub/calving-environment
Bruce Allen - Gore
A pre-winter jab of a multi-mineral treatment did nothing to boost winter weaner growth rates. That was the finding of a two mob comparison trial by Bruce Allan in 2015.
Bruce has been looking at ways of improving the growth rate of his weaners, particularly over winter. The mob growth rate average over the last five years sits at around 50 grams a day.
“Winter is the hardest time to lift growth rates,” he says.
“There’s significant variation within each mob but there’s definitely an opportunity to improve. What I want to be is closer to 100 grams a day.”
To test the potential of a multi-mineral injection he separated weaners into two equal sized mobs and weighed each to get a mob weight average. One mob was injected before going onto a winter swedes and balage feeding regime. Weighing weaners off the crop produced a growth rate difference which was negligible between the two mobs. He followed up in 2016 with the same multi-mineral injection but wintered weaners on fodder beet for the first time. Unfortunately the crop yield was on the light side.
“We didn’t end up with as much crop as hoped so it probably affected the growth rate average.”
The negligible increase in daily growth has led Bruce to wonder if the most useful “what next” step might be trying the multi-mineral boost in spring rather than winter, given that winter is the most difficult time to lift growth rates.
At a glance: Bruce Allan
Velvet production and weaner finishing on 79ha (75ha effective) of flat to easy-rolling hills at Charlton, near Gore.
300 velvet stags, including 50 R2s
130 mixed-age Red hinds
230 weaners including 125 bought-in autumn hybrids
For info on how to assess if your deer are deficient in trace elements and what to do if they are go to www.deernz.org/trace-elements