- Many deer are farmed on hill country or in areas unsuitable for food cropping.
- Deer are fed on pasture, either grazed in the paddock, or conserved and fed in periods of low pasture growth as hay or silage. Grain is fed in only small amounts to maintain health and growth in periods of feed shortage.
- Deer pastures include clovers that ‘fix’ nitrogen from the atmosphere. Very little artificial nitrogen fertiliser is used.
- Most deer pastures are ‘permanent’. Cultivation, which releases potent greenhouse gases – nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide – into the atmosphere, is minimised. Where cultivation is needed minimum tillage is widely practised.
- The urination behaviour of deer, unlike cattle, is understood to not result in urine leaching to groundwater.
- The main environmental risks posed by deer – loss of soil into streams and the impact of browsing on native vegetation – is being effectively managed on most deer farms.
- Deer farmers have been leaders in sustainable farming practices since 2001, when the Elworthy Environmental Award for sustainable deer farming was initiated.
However, the threat posed by climate change, including the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture, is of increasing global concern.
In response to this threat – as well as public concerns about water quality and loss of biodiversity – New Zealand is going through a period of major environmental reform. All industries are expected to minimise their impact on the environment. Deer farming is no exception.
The main water quality risk posed by deer is the loss of soil and nutrients into waterways through run-off during heavy or persistent rain. This is aggravated by natural deer behaviours, such as wallowing in mud, playing in water and running up and down hillsides.
Deer farmers have learned techniques to manage these behaviours so that soil damage is minimised. These – when combined with fencing off key waterways, wetlands and steeper erosion-prone hillsides – is reflected in good water quality and high ecological health of streams on many farms.
In addition, a growing number of deer farms are planting trees in these fenced-off areas. This can further improve stream water quality and eco-system health. New and existing areas of native vegetation are being managed to enhance biodiversity. Trees have also been planted for shelter, shade and soil conservation.
The deer industry is working (in 2021) with the NZ Government to help shape climate change policies for livestock farming that provide farmers with practical ways to reduce their farm emissions. Trees are likely to play an important part in this – providing deer farmers with the opportunity to offset their carbon emissions, as well as offering additional income streams.
Reducing carbon emissions from farmed deer will be a challenge. Our free-range farming systems already produce some of the most natural meat on the planet.
The deer industry is part of He Waka Eke Noa, a partnership involving all major NZ farming industries, Maori and the Ministries for Primary Industries and the Environment. This aims to find ways to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and to improve resilience to climate change.
We also help fund the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium (PGgRc) that funds research into GHG mitigation tools for New Zealand farmers.
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There are rich information resources about sustainable deer farming practices on the Deer Hub section of this website. Click here >>
Deer Industry NZ organises groups where farmers can learn how to calculate their GHG emissions and to prepare Farm Environment Plans. Farmers seeking information on groups operating in their district should contact: Megan McCall. Tel 03 477 6375; 027 207 6074; email@example.com