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A History of Venison In New Zealand

Deer farming represents the pioneering spirit of NZ

The story of deer farming in New Zealand is one of innovation and adventure: from the introduction of the non-native species as a sport for European settlers to high quality farmed venison, it's been an adventure with tasty results. 

Introduced in the late 1800's, 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 hunters, it was not so good for the fragile native forests, which were extensively damaged to due the uncontrolled grazing. By the 1930's, the New Zealand Government had enlisted professional hunters to cull the wild deer population. 

Stag grazing in misty NZ tussock
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Entrepreneurial Kiwis recognised an opportunity

In the 1960s, export of the game meat to Europe became so popular that wild populations rapidly dwindled. Entrepreneurial kiwis realised that farming deer was the most sustainable way of providing New Zealand Venison to international markets. The first deer farming license was issued in 1970, and live deer recovery for farm stock began.

The antipodean pioneering spirit came to the fore, with farmers and cowboys risking their lives jumping from helicopters to recover live deer and create herds. These recovered animals formed the foundation of deer farming in New Zealand, and the commercial herds spread across our country today. 

Deer grazing at sunrise
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Our deer roam the New Zealand high country

Most of our deer are raised in the hills and high country, where they thrive. They graze in the same natural habit where their predecessors chose to roam freely, feeding on wild thyme, sage and natural pasture. These days, the areas are fenced - to keep hunters out, as much as to keep the deer in. Much of the land used to farm deer in New Zealand is unsuitable for growing crops, due to a range of factors including soil quality, adverse climate, steep/rocky terrain and water availability. 

Farming deer allowed a substantial improvement in the quality of venison produced, as animals could be bred, fed and selected for optimum meat production. The New Zealand Deer industry maintains extremely high standards of animal welfare, maintained by the Deer Quality Assurance Program. With deer processed through government approved abattoirs, the hygiene, traceability and food safety of farmed venison is guaranteed, along with consistent tenderness and flavour. 

Duncan New Zealand owns and operates two purpose-built venison processing sites - one in the central North Island and another in the lower South Island - strategically situated to draw deer from throughout New Zealand. 

Deer grazing at west wanaka station