In this, the second in a series of three articles about farming deer on small farms, we discuss food and water, yards, sheds, fences and shade and shelter.
The food requirement of deer varies hugely from one season to the next. The art of good deer farming is to balance these seasonal feed requirements with seasonal pasture production, and to manage pasture to maintain a leafy sward through the growing season.
- Hinds put down fat when there is plenty of pasture, and can use these reserves during winter.
- The appetite of stags drops during the early autumn mating period regardless of how much good pasture is on offer. Their appetite returns in late autumn, and they can recover most or all of their lost condition if the feed supply is good.
Body condition scoring is a useful method of assessing whether animals are being fed properly. The scores range from 0 (emaciated) to 5 (fat).
- A body condition score below 2 is too low.
- The body condition score of all deer rising 2 years and over should be between 3 and 4.
- During the rut, adult stags normally lose body condition. They can lose up to 30% of their body weight, dropping from condition score around 4 - 5 to 2 - 3. Immediately after the rut they should be fed well to ensure full recovery in early winter.
There is usually less pasture available in winter than deer require, so supplementary feeding may be necessary.
The feed requirement of hinds during lactation in summer (November to March) more than doubles. If there isn’t enough pasture, high quality supplements such as grain should be fed.
In late winter, from about mid-August, weaner appetite picks up rapidly over a period of about 6 weeks, and this is a good time to feed high quality supplements like grain to boost their growth rates.
It is important to supply good quality drinking water for all deer at all times.
- Weaners drink up to 2.5 litres a day.
- Lactating hinds up to 10 litres a day
- Stags up to 7 litres a day.
To prevent disease spread and protect the environment, natural water sources, such as creeks and dams, should be fenced off, and the water supplied via a trough.
Some types of deer have significantly increased water requirement at certain times. For example:
- Adult stags during the rut
- Lactating hinds
- All deer during periods of hot, dry weather
- All deer on dry feed such as hay and concentrates
Yards and sheds
There is no single design that suits all farms, and it is important to get expert advice from the outset.
- The yards should be sited so that access to them is easy.
- There should be electricity for lighting and electric clippers, etc and a good reliable water supply
- There are advantages in having covered handling facilities. They protect from bad weather and they allow the handling areas to be darkened. Deer tend to be more settled in subdued light.
- Doors and/or gates need to be fitted flush, with minimum gaps, and spring-loaded catches of the flush 'built in type' help to prevent injuries to the deer.
- Holding areas for red deer should have solid walls up to about 1.2 metres, with a gap below for ventilation, and some form of open board arrangement above 1.2 metres.
- Deer are more comfortable if they can see what’s outside the pen.
- Note that for agile fallow deer, the walls of roofed yards should be 3 metres high.
- Yards should be designed to exploit the deer's tendency to move in a group.
- Octagonal pens work well because they use the deer's natural circular movement.
- Gateways in the holding yards need to be wide enough to allow the group through without being crushed together.
The biggest single cause of injury to deer is overcrowding in the yards. This shouldn’t be a problem on smaller farms where there are fewer than about 30 deer, as long as the deer are not pressured but allowed to move calmly.
- It is essential to have a crush or a small handling pen where Tb testing, drenching and vaccinating can be carried out.
- The last part of the lead-in race should be boarded.
- There are many types of crush available. Get expert advice.
- The holding pen should be 1.5 to 2 m square or circular for red deer, with a sweep gate to assist loading.
- This type of pen will hold four to five red hinds or six weaners.
- When mustering deer it’s best not to use dogs unless they have been specially trained to work with deer.
- When working with deer always wear sensible protective clothing including boots with steel toe-caps.
As a rough guide, there should be at least ten paddocks on a small farm running 100 deer. This will allow separation of hinds, weaners and stags and allow rotational grazing.
- Boundary fences should be of high quality boundary netting with stay wires 150mm apart, or 14-18 plain wires plus battens.
- Fences should be 2.0 m in height, with posts 5 m apart.
- Sub-division fencing needs to be at least 1.6 m high, with posts up to 10 m apart, and can range from netting with stay wires 300 mm apart, to variations of the wire and batten type, to electric fences of six wires.
Shade and shelter
There should be at least some paddocks with natural shade and shelter so that deer can be moved there when the weather is very cold, wet and windy, or very hot and sunny.
Deer have considerably less fat, thinner hides and sparser coats than sheep or cattle. They are not well insulated and they are susceptible to cold wet windy weather.