UK sales of venison have risen by more than 34 per cent over a 10 year period and by an extraordinary 400 per cent in the last 12 months. Despite this, deer production still doesn’t cover demand – so there is a market out there for venison producers. The demand is driven by changing consumer attitudes and buying habits - venison is seen as a ‘better for you’ alternative to beef and lamb.
At Dodd & Co, we have been doing a lot of work with some of the finest and well-respected deer stockmen and women in the country, from helping with deer round-ups to designing and constructing handling units and fencing systems. It is specialised work as the fencing needs to be very robust but also needs to avoid hurting these very wild animals if they make a bid for freedom.
There are two types of deer operation – deer parks or deer farms.
Deer parks are the more historical way of rearing deer. Some of the UK’s oldest deer parks go back 500 years, and were first introduced by the kings and queens of the day as a means of demonstrating their wealth. The demand for wild deer has led to the creation of a number of new deer parks. Deer raised within a park system are classified as wild and can only be shot by a free bullet, they cannot be handled or gathered.
On a deer farm, calves are handled and weaned and the deer are often housed over the winter. The big difference here is that the deer are often sent to an abattoir for slaughter. They may also be killed at any time of the year, whereas wild deer must be killed within their season.
Fencing will be the largest single capital cost, so it is important that it meets the demands of the job. The nets need to be high tensile so they can be strained tightly. They also use less posts and are less conspicuous. The strainer posts must be very well erected and stayed as the system is dependent upon these. The staples holding the net must not be banged home as the wire needs to move.
A standard fence specification would be as follows:
Single 1.9m deer net (Tornado Titan) with treated deer posts at 5-6m intervals and a 2.5mm plain wire on top.
Raceways should be 5.5 to 7.5m wide with no more than 4-5m intervals between posts and a strainer every 50m or so on longer sections for added strength. The net used should take account of the extra strength needed in raceways and should be narrow enough to prevent calves sticking their heads through.
The fencing layout of a new farm is important. We always spend a lot of time and effort talking to the farmer/breeder/deer specialist to make sure this is fit for purpose.
The Scottish Venison Association recommends paddocks that are limited to four to five acres. The objective is to be able to rotate the deer and to keep various age and sex classes separate. A minimum of five paddocks is needed to fulfil this. One or two small paddocks are useful for holding stags. Ideally, all paddocks will connect to the deer handling system by means of a raceway.
Raceways should cater for the size of the deer herd. The minimum width might be 4m but it could start wider to allow the herd to filter in. If the race needs to turn a corner, try to make the curve as smooth as possible so the deer can run unimpeded. Deer cannot always see fences so use a cloth or more timber as the race turns a corner or approaches the yard.
Ideally a yard will be designed with easy access for vehicles, an electrical and water supply, adjacent to sheds for winter housing.
The system should provide facilities for:
Separating calves from hinds
Splitting groups into smaller groups
Restraining stags to remove antlers
Allowing deer to be ear-tagged, wormed and treated for other diseases
Weighing the deer
Loading the deer onto trucks
If you are looking for advice on the design and construction of any aspect of a deer park or farm, please get in touch with Jamie Dodd on 07766 815830