15 November 1996

Deer scheme offers breed improvement

A SIX-YEAR-OLD Hungarian cross Yugoslavian strain of red deer stag is about to play a key part in a breed improvement programme just started by the British Deer Farmers Association.

Details of this scheme, which will run along the same lines as the Meat and Livestock Commissions sire reference scheme for sheep, were revealed at the associations annual conference in Cumbria.

The breeding programme will involve eight co-operating herds from Cornwall to Staffordshire with service by AI conducted by consultant vets Deer Production Services, New Zealand.

Outgoing chairman Hugh Fullerton-Smith of Bury St Edmunds said the scheme had the strong support of the Ministry of Agriculture. "It is an indication of the industrys commitment to genetic improvement. We have made a good start and we would like more people to come on board."

The weekend conference also saw the relaunch of the associations farm assurance scheme. Russell Marchant, chairman of the marketing group Scottish Farm Venison, said that increasingly processors and retailers were demanding traceability and farm assurance for deer. "There is no doubt that eventually those farmers who do not offer this will not be able to sell the product."

Demand for venison has escalated in the past 12 to 18 months with animals worth £200 to £250 a head. But demand is also pushing up breeding stock prices to about the £300 level.

"We have to remember we are a meat-based industry and not a stock breeding-based one. The last thing we want is for breeding deer prices to go through the roof again and stop new people coming in," said Mr Marchant.

The association has also launched a big recruiting drive and with the aid of a £150,000 market promotion grant over three years from MAFF – to be matched £ for £ by members – it is also shortly to appoint a general manager for the QA scheme.n