A History of Venison In New Zealand
Deer farming represents the pioneering spirit of New Zealand, and its history is one of entrepreneurism and adventure. From the introduction of the non-native species as sport for European settlers to high-quality farmed venison, it’s been an adventure with tasty results.
Introduced in the late 1800s, deer were released into the wild to provide hunting opportunities, and promptly flourished in New Zealand’s predator-free environment. Although this was great for the hunters, it was not so good for the fragile native forests, which were extensively damaged due to uncontrolled grazing. In the early 20th century there was a 30-year period when the government enlisted professional hunters to cull the wild deer population, in an attempt to rectify this situation.
In the 1960s, entrepreneurial Kiwis realised that the large number of deer offered an economic opportunity. Venison was a favoured dish in Europe, and export of the game meat became lucrative to a point that the wild populations dwindled rapidly.
It soon became obvious that deer farming was the most sustainable way to continue providing venison exports. The first deer farming license was issued in 1970, and efforts to recover live deer for stock began. The antipodean pioneering spirit was instrumental during these operations, which involved many forms of innovation - including people risking their lives jumping from helicopters to catch live deer and create herds. These recovered deer formed the foundation of deer farming in New Zealand, and the herds we see today.
Many of our farmed deer still roam in their natural environment, in vast areas of hill country that have been fenced to keep the deer in, and the hunters out. Farming the deer allowed a substantial improvement in the quality of venison produced, as animals could be bred, fed and selected for better meat production. With deer processed through government approved abattoirs, the hygiene, traceability and food safety of farmed venison is guaranteed, along with tenderness and flavour.