This and that

My opinion about red deer stag selection

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The condition of polish deer farms from one year slaughterhouse activity point of view

It has just passed a year since our deer farm slaughterhouse in Dąbrówka was started. We entered the meat market with the venison and its products. We buy farmed red deer and fallow deer for slaughter. The accumulating experience let us have critical insights into present state of breeding red deer and fallow deer, as well as buying the livestock, in Poland.

After building a complete slaughterhouse, that is except the slaughterhouse itself also manipulating pens with crush, there appeared a problem with purchasing live animals for slaughter. It turned out that unfortunately, the majority of farms in Poland are not properly equipped or conducted. So far, we have managed to buy the livestock only from one red deer and two fallow deer farms. It is not a big deal to fence several hectares of grass-land and let there animals in, which unfortunately many "breeders" did. One may operate in this way for 2-3 years, but what after then? Animals' population rises, inbred and increased falls happen more and more often. As a result, we get smaller animals and of poor condition. For example, the average body weight of a fallow deer spiker from one of the farms was 40 kg, while a properly maintained spiker should achieve 50 kg, on average. We had trouble with the sale of such portion of meat, because the purchaser wanted to receive heavier carcasses, that is: normal ones. On such "wild" farms one may only dream of separating the calves from their mothers, or the stag after the breeding season. I heard about their (breeders) own ideas of attaching planks  in the gateways between the paddocks allowing (theoretically) the calve to go under it, but not for the hind. These ideas are not only daring, but also funny, to the detriment of the animals, and thus for the owner. Indeed, the slaughter by shooting in the paddocks is allowed by law, but the quality of the meat gained in this way is much lower (damage to the carcass, incomplete bleeding), and the farm must not be located more than 3 hours away from the slaughterhouse (rapid cooling of carcasses is a must). Despite appearances, the slaughter in the paddocks is not that easy. One of the owners of "self-serviced" fallow deer offered us 100 animals to be shot in the paddocks (in spite of having a manipulating pen ...). After fulfilling the veterinary requirements, the breeder got down to shooting, declaring to provide the said number of animals within a week. Unfortunately, the fallow deer quickly associated raised hides with shooting, thus, the breeder was eventually able to provide us only 20 animals!

Furthermore, if the farm has a collective plot, in most cases it is not used, because this operation often involves losses or injuries of animals during the initial attempts of driving them into it. This is a result of purchasing the animals from "wild" animal husbandries for breeding and/or lack of knowledge and experience of a breeder. Even buying a red deer or a fallow deer from a properly conducted farm, on which the animals are regularly driven to a manipulating pen, it does not guarantee their smooth manoeuvrability in the following years. One of "the breeders" thought that after the purchase of such animals, also their offspring would take knowledge about the pen and manipulation in with their mothers' milk! These improper conclusions only lead to increased falls during attempts of controlling the herd. I know a case of the fallow deer farm with a manipulating pen, where the owner, without training the animals manipulation at all, attempted to capture the herd in the largest box of collective plot. Fallow deer were regularly fed there, so that they could freely come in and go out. After several days of feeding the owner was able to close the animals in the box, but quickly released them out of there, because the panicked animals got injured in the box by hitting each other (among them there were stags with hard antlers obviously).

The key to minimization of losses in red deer and fallow deer breeding are: firstly -know-how, and secondly - practice. Treating farmed deer as "self-serviced" animals is a big misunderstanding. On each farm there has to be even the simplest collective plot, the animals must experience manipulation at least 2-3 times a year. Calves must be separated from their mothers and stags from the hinds or does. Regular worming, proper feeding and the necessity for trimming the antlers must also be taken into consideration. Thanks to this, the farm will be able to offer the balanced and highest quality livestock, which may be loaded free of damage and stress to the means of transport to the slaughterhouse and unloaded there uneventfully. What is more, working staff will not be exposed at risk of losing their life or health. Carcasses obtained in this way are fully utilized (no waste resulting from the injuries) and the owner may get greater revenue. As regards trimming of antlers, I know the attitude of one of "the breeders", who does not practice this treatment on his farm, and when asked how he wants to deliver the animals without losses to the slaughterhouse, he answered that he would load the stags with untrimmed antlers, and any injuries and falls that might happen would his loss! This is a violation of the fundamental principles of animals' well-being!  I know that the stag with trimmed antlers is no longer representative, but I also know that due to this treatment losses among the animals, caused by using antlers are actually eliminated, and what is more, stags handling in the paddocks and collective plots is definitely more comfortable. The seller may show a potential buyer the trimmed antlers (also inform on their weight) and stag's pictures before the operation. An accident of killing a man by a stag with hard antlers, which took place several years ago in Poland, have influenced the change of behaviour of too few people.

Another issue is the condition of the animals delivered for slaughter, meaning their diet and parasitological prevention. Animals that are chosen for slaughter, should be in good condition, i.e. not too thin, but not too fat, because the latter is a scrap product. Therefore special attention should be put to feeding economics and separate holding of the slaughter animals. Due to this, one may save on concentrates, for example. The quality of nutrition is also important, because it will be reflected in the quality of offal. In some of the delivered fallow deer almost all their stomachs had to be confiscated, and in one of them we found ... a piece of sweater.

Antiparasitic means are not a great cost to the farm. They significantly improve the condition of animals, and hence, the carcass weight and quality of the skin. In our deer farm in Dąbrówka we use standard double worming: just before the start of the grazing season and before the rut. Calves are additionally wormed after separation from the hinds. Increased carcasses' weight gives more income!

Other interesting events that we came across during the annual operation of the slaughterhouse, is the fact that one of the farms did not notify the District Veterinary Inspectorate about their breeding activity. When selling the livestock, there appeared a problem with a veterinary certificate, that is impossible to be issued by the District Veterinary in case s/he knows nothing about the farm.

In view of the above observations, you will find below some tips that may help to eliminate future problems. It is really worth taking them into consideration! First, you must register the farm in the District Veterinary Inspectorate, where you get the veterinary number. Secondly: trim stags' hard antlers, which will minimize the losses, and handling of animals will be much more secure. In our slaughterhouse we accept only stags with trimmed antlers, starting from the spiker. Thirdly, do not be afraid to use manipulating pens and practice as much as possible! Beginnings in manipulating the herd are always difficult, but the farmed deer are not stupid, they learn quickly, especially when driving and working with them within collective plots is performed sensitively and according to the same procedures. In our deer farm in Dąbrówka we have not managed to avoid some losses in the first years, either. Disregarding the extremely wild behaviour of single calves, which led to later aggressive and leaping behaviour of 3-year-old stags turned out to be the big lesson. Currently, our work with adult animals is simple, because the deer are perfectly aware of what they are expected to do, actually doing the same things twice a year (before and after the rut). The case is different with young animals, that I spend with far more time training them during the winter. In these herds I often use the older and experienced animal, that can lead the calves, significantly reducing and facilitating my work. I train young animals to respond properly during driving them, to enter smoothly to collective plot and to be separated in boxes. Time devoted to training young animals will result in the future trouble-free herd.  

I hope that due to our slaughterhouse operation, some deer farm owners will ensure for themselves the sales of their animals, creating meats profiled farms. Sales of breeding material is currently going through a slump, and breeding hinds and does prices are dangerously close to livestock prices. It would be worthwhile for some deer farm owners to take this article to heart and to become also the breeders, which in spite of appearances is not synonymous.

Agata Hanelik

May 2010