Commercial herds are producer farms, which breed offspring for product end points such as venison, velvet or trophy production. Commercial producers cover a very large range of operations sizes and relative intensities of farming operations, this is generally dictated by the farm environment (e.g. location, topography, soils, rainfall, growing season, pasture types/improvement, etc).
Commercial producers run a hind herd to breed progeny. Generally a proportion of the hind herd is used to breed replacement hinds for its own breeding herd. Commercial venison breeders may not necessarily 'finish' (grow to the point of slaughter) any or all of the progeny they breed and instead may sell these animals post-weaning for finishing elsewhere. Commercial herds do not generally sell live animals for the genetic improvement of other farms, which is a role of the specialist stud breeder.
Identify stud breeders with breeding objectives that best match your commercial herd's production goals. If you have any breed/strain/type preferences also consider that in your stud breeder choice. Finally evaluate potential animal health risks introducing new stock to the farm. It is important to feel that you can trust the stud breeder(s) you select – after all, they determine the future direction and production potential of your deer herd.
Buy in accordance with your breeding plan. When purchasing sire stags it is important to stick to herd production goals in order to genetically improve the herd (e.g.venison or velvet or trophy). Do not be swayed by other factors than the herd's sire stag requirements, no matter how good the brochure photo looks. Consider major health risks that may be introduced with new stock, such as parasites, Johne's Disease, TB status (essentially covered by an ASD (animal status declaration) form). Discuss these risks and their mitigation/minimization (such as drenching, Johne's Disease testing etc) with the stud breeder.
The purchase of stags for venison production should be largely based on the appropriate economic index. Prior to purchase, identify more stags than will be required (say 20% more) based on their index, and then select the precise number required, based on what is commercially available and within budget at the time. It is important to remember that it is often a team of stags being purchased, so the key consideration is the average index of the entire group of purchased stags. This average index value will have a very high accuracy for a mob of approximately 10 stags.
When using DEERSelect to make informed decisions based on indices and BVs, be aware that the stud breeders can and should provide you with genetic trends and linkage graphs to demonstrate key genetic information about stags for sale. Ask your breeder to show you their latest herd genetic trend graph for the index or BV of interest, and compare that with the national trend for that index or BV. Look at the stud's linkage on the across-herd analysis linkage graph, as this gives an estimate of how well genetically connected the herd is with other herds. Review the age structure of the hind herd, and the number of sire stags used. This should give you an idea of potential rates of genetic gain and herd diversity in the stud herd. More information on using DEERSelect to purchase breeding stock can be found here >>
Facial Eczema (FE) tolerance is an important consideration for North Island farmers when purchasing stags. It is unlikely that stags from the South Island have been exposed to FE, so there is a possible risk of buying FE-susceptible sires. However, this is not a consideration for South Island farmers, and there is little risk associated with purchasing stags from either North Island or South Island stud breeders.
New sires stags represent a large investment in the farm's future productivity. Care should be taken to introduce these new stags to the farm system following purchase. Select specialist DeerQA approved transporters to deliver the new stags. Do not join with other resident mature stags immediately, otherwise there is risk of injury or death associated with fighting. Remember that newly purchased stags, no matter how mature, have not established their place in the farm hierarchy and will be under a degree of stress until familiarised with the new environment. For this reason it pays to bring the stags onto the farm at least 6 weeks prior to mating and follow best practice on the mating management of stags.
Commercial herds purchase sire stags from the stud breeders who best suit the commercial herd’s production goals. Each year, the farm's sire stag team requires very careful consideration. A plan needs to be developed around stag availability for the new mating season, and very likely a selection of new stags will need to be purchased, to add to or replace the older stags already present in the herd. Commercial herds generally need to balance their requirement to replace hinds in the breeding herd and to generate males to provide the 'product' (i.e. venison, velvet or trophy).
For purchased breeding stags the aim should be to obtain as many progeny as possible from each sire (bearing in mind ‘safe’ mating ratios).
Different sire types will be required for different roles within the farm system as noted below.
For a typical venison production system, there is a requirement to replace breeding hinds in order to remove non-productive older hinds and to continually improve the overall genetic merit of the breeding hind herd. The actual rate of replacement of older hinds is dependent upon a number of factors which include:
- the culling rate of non-productive hinds (e.g. those failing to successfully rear a calf); and
- the need to continually improve the herd's genetic merit by replacing lower merit animals with younger hinds of higher genetic merit.
This means that a proportion of the breeding hinds in the commercial herd will be required to produce replacement hinds, while the remainder will be used to produce offspring for venison production.
Hinds not needed to produce replacement hinds can be mated to sires with high terminal index values (either Wapiti or high terminal index value Reds) to produce both males and females for venison production.
If particularly high merit or desirable sire(s) have been purchased, retain a greater proportion of their daughters as replacements by either fawning as a known mob or using dna to determine the sire and then tagging to identify the progeny.
Given an average weaning rate of 85% and that half of progeny will be male, it means approximately 2.5 hinds will need to be mated to maternal sires for each replacement breeding female required. For example, if the desired replacement rate is 10% of the breeding herd, then 25% of the breeding hinds will be needed to produce replacement females, and 75% to produce venison production animals.
However, replacement rates of up to 20% of the breeding herd are not uncommon, especially if the producer is seeking to continually improve the genetics of the breeding hind herd. This means that about 50% of the breeding hind herd is required to produce replacement hind progeny.
Most specialist velvet operations run a breeding hind herd to produce replacement velvet stags. In this case, all females are generally mated to stags of high genetic merit for velvet antler production. However 50% of the progeny will be females and may either be selected as replacement hinds for the velvet breeding herd or sold for venison production. The remaining male progeny will be retained until they are able to be assessed for their velvet traits. In many cases a first cull is made on the basis of the yearling stags' velvet antler, however the primary selection of replacement velvet stags is generally made at 2 years of age.
If particularly high merit or desirable sire(s) have been purchased, retain a greater proportion of their daughters as replacements by either fawning as a known mob or using DNA to determine the sire and then tagging to identify the progeny.
Deer Select BVs for velvet antler production are currently only available for a limited number of stud herds. However, some commercial velvet herds are now recording on Deer Select and selecting progeny on the 2-year-old velvet weight BV (VW2) BVs for their own use. This can be particularly helpful to assist in making early selection decisions for males and replacement females.
For trophy antler production the considerations for the breeding herd are much the same as for the velvet herd. However, no BVs are available in DEERSelect specifically for trophy antler traits.
For commercial herds wishing to introduce the very top genetics to their herd, there are options for purchasing semen directly from stud breeders or breeding companies. Most of the top sires in the Deer Select Sire Summary list have semen available for purchase. Artificial insemination (AI) is a means by which commercial herds can leapfrog to top genetics in order to produce high genetic merit hinds and stags as breeding herd replacements. The requirements for running an AI program are outlined here >>
Commercial herds need to consider capitalising on the genetic progress made by stud breeders in order to continually improve their own production. This involves the strategic acquisition of improved genetics from the stud breeders in accordance with the commercial herd's breeding plan. As well as breeding replacement breeding hinds, many commercial herds will often breed a proportion of their own sire stags, using purchased sire genetics.