Criffel Station

May 2008
Criffel Station is a big South Island high country deer farm with 13,000 stock units on 2000ha at the iconic centre of the New Zealand farmed deer industry, with a balance of hill country and irrigated intensively farmed flats, developed to a high standard and with a high health status and high production herd.

Total property is 2000ha, 315ha irrigated flats, 38ha dryland flat, 800ha oversown hill, 600ha of unimproved hill, 80-ha of cultivated hill, elevation 300m to 1200 asl, rainfall 682mm.

Property was in Jerry Bells family, running sheep and beef until 1993 when Jerry and Mandy took up residence. They decided to convert to deer and Criffel now carries 2200 MA hinds, 290 R2 hinds, 530 R2 culls, 3350 R1 mixed sex, including 1450 purchased for finishing), 140 breeding stags, plus some beef steers and dairy grazers, on nearby leased property.

In 1995 Criffel purchased Frenchmans Creek property that was all ready deer fenced and carried out some more fencing and regrassing. In 2001 the deer fencing of the flats and hill country on the Criffel Station block began.

Paddocks on the homestead terrace were regrassed and fertilized, while old border-dykes were removed for a K-line system irrigating 165ha. Through 2003 to 2007 the deer fencing was completed and more K-line installed, hill country was over-sown with fertilizer, cocksfoot and clovers, and smaller irrigation systems installed on terraces. Bells now describe Criffel as having mature infrastructure, in terms of fences, water and pastures, which provides a secure platform for growing the deer production.

Criffel has several types of high-producing ryegrass cultivars on the flats under irrigation, plus kale (25ha), turnips (17ha), rape (22ha) and barley (11ha) to provide finishing feed for weaner deer as priority class. Main irrigation system is gravity K-line, plus a Southern Cross gun and diesel pump. Over 300ha of irrigated flats are used intensively all year round.

Every year 2000 weaners are born on the Criffel Station, 800 from Elk bulls (terminal sires) and 1200 from Eastern Red stags. All these progeny come out of Eastern European hinds selected into mating mobs on age, conformation, early calving ability and temperament, with the best hinds going to the Red stags. From the progeny born from the Red stags 500 weaner hinds are selected as potential replacements and will go to spikers (own-bred stud) the following year for mating.

The remaining 1500 is kept for finishing. They are sorted out after their second Yersinavax and drench into five mobs Red stags (500), Red hinds (500), Elk-cross big (350), Elk-cross smaller (350) and a mixture of smaller weaners (300).

After weaning the Elk-cross progeny are grazed on Golaith rape to make use of their high growth rate potential over the autumn, this is an easy transition as they have already grazed on summer rape with their mothers on a lower hill block.

After the rape is grazed the Elk and other Red mobs rotate around grass paddocks on a 15-20 day rotation over the autumn. Grain is fed at around .250kgDM/day to the Red stags and Elk over the autumn.

Winter feed crops of Kestral Kale (selected due to low growing height, high utilization and low incidence of health problems) are grown to winter the replacement Red hinds, stags and smalls mob. Weaners go onto these in mid May early June when the grass growth begins to slow. Grass levels need to be kept above 1500kgDM/ha going into winter as the Elk-cross weaners are wintered to these on a long rotation with quality baleage and barley. Regular drenching and copper supplementation is essential with the Elk-cross to avoid heath problems.

The 1450 brought in animals begin arriving in late March. These consist of around 1000 Hybrids and 450 reds and are wintered in a similar way to the Criffel weaners with the Reds on crop and hybrids on grass, grain and baleage.

Luke Wright, farm manager, explains:

Once the whole lot have arrived they are yarded and all weighed through the three-way draft weigh box into three mobs. This makes for a lot of time saved in the spring when it comes time to draft for killing as they are already mostly drafted into the lines they will be slaughtered in. Most of the brought-in deer come from suppliers that we have brought from before and can trust to supply us with quality healthy animals.

The brought-in deer are kept separate from the Criffel deer to avoid stress from changing the social structure of the mobs and to keep pasture clean from animal health problems such as parasites and Johnes Disease.

The first draft of weaners happens in mid September, they are drafted at 95kg LW to aim to be 53kgCW, they are drafted 140 150 at a time and a load will leave almost every week until March, when we aim to have 90% of the animals slaughtered to have room for the new years crop of weaners.

Deer go to Alliance Group at Sockburn and Duncan and Company at Mosgiel, we have great long term relationships with both of these companies.

Contracts for supply are set in the autumn for the chilled season and we can stick to these by accurate weighing of animals, regular weighing to check growth rates and knowing the genetics we are using are capable of growing chilled season venison.

Criffel Station has a small stud operation focused on producing Eastern European deer with high growth rates for venison production. While it is primarily breeding these to better its own breeding herd, it will also be offering some of these elite animals for sale in the near future to other like-minded commercial deer farmers.

The animals are all parentage tested through DNA profiling and are recorded on the DeerSelect database which is managed by AgResearch. Breeding values are generated by the data that is put into the database which allows animals to be compared from one farm to another in a more equal way than previously.

Through the use of A.I Criffel has steadily been increasing the genetic gain in the animals to the point where they rival some of the best in the industry. The unit is quarantined from the rest of the commercial farm to limit the risks of disease and have been tested for Johnes disease which is an ever increasing problem for the deer industry.

Mandy Bell is a veterinarian and takes a special interest in the animal health and welfare aspects of Criffel Station. She is former chair of the Otago Deer Farmers Association and founding member (2002) of the Johnes Research Group, which liaised between scientists and farmers to define and tackle Johnes disease in deer population.

Public-good science funding was obtained for epidemiology studies and a toolbox manual of management or mitigation options developed for farmers. Many deer farms have now have the manual and are expected to link to Johnes Management Ltd, which will collate and pass back to farmers the post-mortem information from deer slaughtering plants.

On Criffel all clinical Johnes diseased deer are culled and all R2yos tested for subclincal infection. Any reactors are removed. Criffel purchases up to 1500 weaners annually for finishing and these have to come from farms following the same Johnes management programme. As the Johnes status of deer improves, attention is being paid to the infection of other livestock classes which may come on to the deer far, such as dairy grazers.