Deer research and Invermay

Deer research and Invermay

The history of deer farming research at Invermay goes back to its origins in 1972 when Dr Ken Drew (MAF Research Division) and Les Porter (MAF Animal Health Division) spent three days in Southland and Central Otago visiting people involved with ‘holding deer behind fences’. Their fateful meeting with Herbie Taylor and sons at West Dome Station, near Mossburn, saw them secure 92 borrowed hinds for the start of the Invermay deer project. After much trial and tribulation, these hinds, which were essentially feral, were yarded and trucked to Invermay on 10 October 1973, and 66 calves were born from 30 November onward. A hand-reared stag (Herbie’s pet, whose notoriety for cunning and spite will forever be in the annuls of history) was obtained from West Dome the following year and remained on Invermay as the primary sire stag of a number of years. Upon his demise (which, from all accounts, was eagerly ‘assisted’), his mounted head was gifted to the then Minister of Agriculture, Duncan MacIntyre. The head has since returned to Invermay, where it now menacingly presides over the meetings held in the George Holmes Room. It would be true to say that the first few years proved a testing time for researchers but much was learned about animal and human behaviour. The early years largely focussed on how to take a feral animal and tame it! Thereafter, the name Invermay became synonymous with deer farming research, an institution almost as old as New Zealand deer farming itself. Invermay has been involved in the following research for a more profitable deer industry:


Early days of deer research at Invermay.  Dr Ken Drew tagging a new-born red deer calf in the late 1970's.

1970s

  • Deer handling and behaviour
  • Stress myopathy
  • Calving behaviour and performance
  • Annual management calendar
  • MCF
  • Anaesthetics/sedation for deer


Pere David's deer on Invermay Deer Farm in the late 1980's.

1980s

  • Feeding levels and photoperiodism
  • Trace minerals (Cu and Se)
  • Reproductive behaviour and mating success
  • Reproductive cycles and wastage
  • Growth physiology
  • Parasites (lungworm and tissue worm)
  • Artificial insemination
  • Pregnancy scanning
  • Velvet antler yields
  • Wapiti crossbreeding
  • Tb control
  • Venison processing


Embryo transfer studies in red deer in the 1990's.

1990s

  • Winter feeding management
  • Antler physiology
  • Velvet antler bioactives
  • Ethical velvet antler harvesting systems
  • Yersiniosis (vaccine development)
  • Embryo Transfer/ IVF
  • Johne’s Disease (testing protocols)
  • Welfare (handling, transport and lairage)
  • Venison quality and food safety
  • Pere David’s deer hybrids and gene markers
  • DNA technology for parentage


Indoor studies on gestation length control in red deer involving indoor feeding over calving and lactation in the 2000's.

2000s

  • Sire-referencing
  • DEERSelect established
  • Gastro-intestinal parasites
  • Johne’s Disease (genetics)
  • Environmental management
  • Lactational feeding
  • Hind puberty
  • Fetal ageing by ultrasonography
  • Gestation length control
  • Genetics of seasonality/conception date
  • DNA sequencing and SNPs
  • Focus Farms/Adoption
  • Farm systems modelling


CT scanning of young red deer to measure carcass conformation in the 2010's.

2010s

  • Deer Progeny Test (DPT)
  • DEERlink (sire linkage programme)
  • Improving OVERSEER for deer
  • Anthelmintic resistance
  • Improved parasite control
  • High-country deer systems
  • Fetal wastage/abortion
  • Winter crops and reproductive performance
  • Genetics of disease immunity (CARLA/Johne’s)
  • Genetics of venison yield and quality
  • Genetics of behaviour and temperament
  • Relationship between stress and productivity
  • EMA ultrasonography and CT Scanning
  • Genotyping by Sequencing (GBS)
  • Focus Farms/Adoption