Mature and Heavy Stag Opportunities | Issue 196

Feb 9, 2024

The NZDFA Executive Committee and Branch Chairs, alongside DINZ and venison marketing companies are all conscious of the increasing proportion of the national deer kill that will be derived from mixed age stags. We farmers need to be receiving increased returns from our operations to counter increasing costs. The NZDFA are initiating discussions with venison marketing companies on opportunities to boost revenue from these animals. The venison slaughter record that mature stag numbers have tripled inside the past five years while, while the younger stag numbers have halved. This is primarily due to deer farmers shifting from venison to velvet production over the past decade which was exacerbated by the low venison prices caused by the Covid-19 closure of our international venison markets. See the table below for recent figures.

Venison Slaughter Numbers
  Young Hinds Young Stags Mature Hinds Mature Stags
2018 98,879 135,184 37,131 12,328
2019 114,053 139,401 27,227 12,566
2020 120,349 136,944 38,167 18,310
2021 125,638 126,753 41,810 17,977
2022 81,043 73,772 39,546 37,018
2023 77,977 65,990 70,937 34,291

The mature stag venison price has improved from its Covid lows, thanks to the reopening of food service in Europe, greater diversification into China and the growth of ground venison products into the North American market.
Compounding the concerns in this area are the increasing number of younger stags exceeding the 85kg carcass weight penalty threshold that has been set by some of the companies. The P2P initiative encouraged bigger animals, faster growth and earlier maturing which has been achieved on farm through both improved feeding and genetic gain, but we are now finding that markets have not sufficiently evolved alongside this on farm growth. The financial penalty for farmers exceeding this 85kg carcass ceiling has been considerable for an animal that still has all the perceived attributes of a younger animal, notwithstanding size.

The Executive Committee has had regular contact with the companies and discussed initiatives underway to address these issues. The feedback we received highlighted that markets have taken time to build and the quality characteristics of venison, as well as the portion size of the under 85kg weight range are what many venison markets demand. While initiatives to find homes for larger cuts are underway, we are also keen to be part of exploring other options with efforts such as our recent initiative detailed below. The NZDFA are of view that we should be supportive of these initiatives to add value to larger carcases to increase returns for both the mature and heavy stag categories.

Previous attempts have been made by both DINZ and the venison companies have not as yet come up with market options that are commercially viable. With the major roadblock primarily being the inconsistency of tenderness. The NZDFA Executive Committee decided to commission the services of Tyson Burrows who has a restaurants in both Taihape and Waiouru and has been very supportive of the local Taihape Ruapehu Branch, particularly during the Next Generation event which the branch hosted 18 months ago. Given his previous Australasian experience and being a former winner of the “My Restaurant Rules” competition we thought he was the ideal candidate for a fresh set of eyes on increasing opportunities in this area. The brief we gave him was to create dishes that would ensure consistency of tenderness of mature stag and would encourage chefs to add and retain these on their menus.

The annual velvet competition for Central Regions and Taihape Ruapehu was this year held at the Fordell hall near Whanganui. The organising committee generously allowed us to use their event as a platform for Tyson to present his dishes to a very discerning farmer audience. Our Executive Committee Chair Justin Stevens and wife Rebecca made the trip north to attend, as did our Producer Manager Lindsay Fung. It was a very relaxing and enjoyable day for the attendees and was great to see the quality of velvet on show and deer farmers and their families out socialising together. This has been and continues to be a real strength of the deer industry. We were certainly well fed by the four courses that Tyson had created and received positive constructive feedback on the dishes for further development ahead.

We know that a one-off cooking event with a skilled chef doesn't completely solve the products variability, but the quality of the dishes combined with the feedback received has really highlighted the potential possibilities. Three of the four dishes were deemed to be indistinguishable from that of a younger animal. We will continue to work with Tyson and engage with venison marketing companies to see what further work we can develop and will keep you all updated and informed. 

Chef Tyson Burrows (right) preparing the evening's meal.

Tyson (second left) alongside Mark McCoard and Graham Walker-Cudby of Central Regions branch NZDFA introducing the dishes.

- Mark McCoard, Executive Committee member

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