Virtually every part of a processed deer has a market. Very little of the animal is wasted.
Co-products make up at least 10% of the value of a processed deer – a proportion that changes with venison prices and varies between hinds and stags.
Deer are the most revered animal in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and many deer co-products are seen as health foods in parts of Asia. The most valuable of these are the pizzles (male genitals), tails and sinews.
In TCM, deer co-products are seen as good for the ‘yang’ and bring heat to the body. Each co-product is believed to have specific health benefits.
Most pizzles, tails and sinews are exported frozen in an unprocessed form. However, increasing volumes are further processed in New Zealand into more modern, consumer-focused, easier-to-handle formats – but with the same TCM reverence for deer.
Deer pizzles (penises and testicles) are collected during processing, trimmed and frozen for sale. Typically, they are dried for retail sale and used in traditional hotpot cuisine in parts of north-eastern China. Pizzles are now also processed and sold in capsules as a natural medicine.
Once the flexor tendons have been removed from an animal carcass they are referred to as sinews. Drying is the traditional preservation technique. Deer sinews are high in collagen and glucosamines and are believed to have bone-and joint-strengthening properties.
The dried sinews need to be softened before cooking, usually by soaking in water for about two days followed by boiling until tender. The tendons are then typically cooked with vegetables and herbs in a broth.
The tails are frozen after removing from the carcass. Processors then de-hair, shape, dry and polish them for retail sale. Great care is taken with cutting and shaping to ensure the tails comply with traditional market requirements.
Many larger tails are sold as gifts, where the giver is seen to be gifting health and well-being. Deer tails are typically sliced thinly and served with herbs and spices in a broth.
Deer bones, after the major venison cuts have been removed – along with trimmings and offals that can’t be used for human food – are sought-after for the manufacture of pet foods and treats.
Many dog owners report that their animals enjoy venison-based foods and are of benefit to their dogs’ health. Large companies that supply this market buy from New Zealand because we’re the only source of commercial quantities of quality-assured farmed deer products, available year-round.
Deer leather is supple and drapes well. Hence deer hides are sought-after for making high-end leather garments, fashion accessories and the like.
Hides are processed in New Zealand to the ‘blue’ stage of manufacture and sold to international buyers for tanning and dyeing.