World Class New Zealand: Taming the Wild: Farmed Venison

New Zealand Management, June 2013 | Go to article overview

World Class New Zealand: Taming the Wild: Farmed Venison


The domestication of deer in New Zealand has been a remarkable achievement. Deer are the first new animals to be domesticated for farming in over 5000 years. Large scale commercial farming of deer started in this country and New Zealand has the largest and most advanced deer farming industry in the world.

It may be pointing out the obvious but deer are not native to New Zealand. The first deer were brought here from Great Britain for sport in the mid to late 19th century, and released mainly in the Southern Alps and foothills. The environment proved ideal and the uncontrolled feral populations grew to high numbers. By the middle of the 20th century feral deer were regarded as a pest and deer cullers were employed by the government to keep the numbers in check. Suddenly we had another crop to flog to the Northern Hemisphere, and so the export of venison from feral deer started, turning a pest into a money spinner.

Hunting became so lucrative that the deer population dwindled; to the point that people started wondering whether it was feasible to farm deer to supply this rapidly growing European market. In 1970 the first deer farming licence was issued and keen young idiots started capturing live deer from the wild and the first deer industry pioneers started farming them.

These were interesting times and Kiwi ingenuity was employed in all sorts of (sometimes) successful ways. We built ingenious traps of netting and saplings, fools (the writer included) leapt out of choppers on to the backs of animals with that all important tool, a piece of baling twine. A little later it got really clever with some crazy experiments -- a couple that even worked occasionally including net and tranquilizer guns. But it was worth the cost of choppers and the odd broken rib as by the frenzy of the late 1970s we were getting up to $3000 for a hind and $800 for a fawn.

So a new industry, deer farming, was born and from what started out as just a half-baked idea 40 years ago. Deer are now farmed in all regions of New Zealand. We have at least half the world's farmed deer population (more than 1.3 million) on 3200 farms throughout New Zealand.

Farming the deer allowed a vast improvement in the quality and quantity of venison available to the world. Animals could now be bred, fed and selected for better meat production and in 1992 the Cervena appellation was introduced. This trademark gives purchasers a guarantee that they are buying the best venison available, fully backed by quality assurance programmes that guarantee naturally raised, farmed venison.

Cervena is New Zealand farmed venison but not all New Zealand farmed venison is Cervena.

Cervena is not a brand, it is a quality assurance programme; and New Zealand farmed venison other than Cervena can be just as good, but with Cervena you have that guarantee of quality.

In order to qualify for the Cervena label, New Zealand farm raised deer are entirely grass fed (this may be supplemented during the colder months but with only natural feed like hay and silage), to produce a tender, mild meat.

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World Class New Zealand: Taming the Wild: Farmed Venison
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