“I can absolutely see this going global,” says consultant executive chef Geoff Scott, of the deer milk now being pioneered in NZ.
Sharon McIntyre, the manager of Deer Select, the national deer recording database, says proven sires on the database have BVs for fawning date ranging from 9.5 days earlier and 10 days later than average.
“Not every deer farmer is looking for hinds that cycle early, but nobody wants late fawns. Late fawns have less time to grow and on many farms their mothers miss out on high quality spring feed for lactation. They struggle to reach target liveweights by autumn,” she says.
McIntyre says there are no real downsides to having earlier fawning genetics because farmers can still control their fawning date by deciding when to put their stags out.
“Some farmers in the high country prefer a traditional early- to mid-November fawning because it suits their pasture growth pattern. On warmer country, especially where it’s summer-dry, earlier fawning is an advantage.”
She says breeders using Deer Select can record conception date at pregnancy scanning and get a conception date BV. So long as the stags are put out well before the onset of mating, this BV can then be used to select for breeding hinds that fawn earlier in the season.
“Commercial farmers do not want sires that produce daughters that become late-conceiving hinds. In the Deer Progeny Test, done by AgResearch from 2014-2016, R2 hinds from different maternal sires differed in average date of conception by up to two weeks.”
McIntyre says more and more stud breeders are including BVs in their sale catalogues, particularly BVs for growth and meat or velvet. Other BVs are usually available on request if the breeder is recording these traits.
“There has been a lot of emphasis on faster growth rates, and breeders have some very high merit young stags available to the industry and are now starting to focus a bit more on maternal traits,” she says.
“Conception date is one of these, as are fertility rates for young hinds and fawn survival. Fertility can be measured by knowing the hinds mated and their pregnancy scanning results – zero or one. A fertility trait will be set up in Deer Select and will be available to breeders shortly.”
She says survival is a little harder, but a start has been made with some breeders recording wet (with an udder) or dry (no udder) at pre-rut weaning.
“Both these traits have low heritability. Feeding, body condition score and management have a big impact on both fertility and fawn survival, but it is possible some lines of deer are better or worse genetically for these traits than others and we won’t know unless we measure and record.”
Deer Select is owned by Deer Industry NZ (DINZ). It stores pedigree and performance (trait) records, then uses this data to provide estimated BVs and economic indices.
“Deer stud breeders use these BVs and indexes to inform their selection decisions and to monitor their genetic progress, both in their own herd and relative to other breeders. Commercial farmers can use these BVs as the basis for sire and elite hind selection, confident that the animals they are buying are of known genetic merit,” McIntyre says.
“BVs enable farmers to compare stags and hinds offered by different breeders, knowing they are comparing apples with apples. Also BVs tell you things that you can’t see or physically measure, like maternal genetics in stags and velvet genetics in hinds.
“Buying a good-looking stag from your neighbour may be cheaper, but in the long-run it could take your herd backwards and cost you money.”