Business Rural Summer 2021

42 | DEER » Rata Peaks Station Rata Peaks punching above its weight Craig Feaver of Rata Peaks Station with 16kg of velvet from a 5 year old stag. Sue Russell T he 1863 ha effective Rata Peaks Station is situated up the Rangitata Gorge, inland from Ashburton. Originally part of Mt Peel Station, Rata Peak Station was created under the Land for Settlement Act 1908 for soldiers returning from World War 1, to carve out a life on the land. Above the top deer fence 700 ha’s is only used for three months of the year for the ewes. Though the station’s size is impressive, it is the smallest working farm in the area. These are vast expansive tracks of land where properties are measured in thousands of hectares. The property is home to 2000 breeding Dohne merino, a breed farmed for wool and meat, 230 commercial hinds and 160 velvet hinds. Deer farm manager Craig Feaver says activity on the farm pretty much consumes the full 12 months. It’s beautiful, rugged, remote land and a chal- lenge to farm, however Craig wouldn’t have it any other way. Temperatures at these heights can range from 45°C to -15°C and each year, the farm is likely to receive a handful of large snow dumps. When Rural South spoke with Craig mid October the lambs, fattened on the station were just head- ing away to be processed. Rams for breeding are purchased from Richard Loe. “We just leave the ewes to do their own thing at lambing. If you interfere with them they tend to move off the lambs which can be a problem so we leave them alone.” The velvet herd is kept totally separate from the commercial deer and future stags for velvet are bred from the existing pool of hinds. Last year, Rata Peaks Station, entered the Na- tional Velvet and Trophy Antler competition, winning the prized Open Red Velvet section. The velvet came from 9 year old stag Walter, who has now sadly passed away from a disease called Malignant Catarrhal Fever, passed on from sheep. The virus infects Stags but can also impact Hinds. “Walter was a Stag that always had the potential. When we cut him we didn’t initially think the antler and velvet were of competition-winning standard. At the time, we had three or four heads in the freezer and just decided we would send Walter’s antler in. We were quite shocked when we heard we had won.” Craig admits that with the top-end velvetting herd he’s inclined to ‘baby’ them a little bit. Last year, Rata Peaks Station was the only property of all the red deer farms that had a head entered in every category. “We’re a small high country farm in the middle of nowhere and it is quite nice to compete and even be better than a lot of the Studs. Rata Peaks Station practices a breeding pro- gramme of single sire mating and in any given year Craig will only use three or four Stags. “We’re a closed shop.” Hinds are bought from outstanding breeder Pete Swann from Glenfiddich Farms. Craig says Peter is the very best breeder around and has a deep understanding of all the factors that contribute to growing great deer. “Pete’s father Bob Swann’s knowledge was amazing. It’s something that just runs in their blood.” Craig and partner/owner Jan Taylor work together on the property. The homestead is surrounded by a magnificent English-style high altitude garden, the result of Jan’s innate gardening skills and dedica- tion to turn what was once paddock into something quite breath-taking, spanning decades. Jan moved on to the property in 1989 and one of her sons, Sam and partner Jane, are working toward taking over the property. Craig’s association with deer stems back to the days when commercial contractors were engaged to remove deer by helicopter in the pioneering days of deer farming. He says the industry has seen a lot of change. “Right now of course we’re struggling with venison prices while velvet is still maintaining a strong value.” “We’re a small high country farm in the middle of nowhere and it is quite nice to compete and even be better than a lot of the Studs - STOCK - BULK - GENERAL FREIGHT - BLOWER TRUCK - FERTILISER SPREADING - SHINGLE SUPPLIES - PUBLIC WEIGHBRIDGE - RAVENSDOWN STORE MAYFIELD Ph: (03) 303 6102 - 0800 687 267 (0800 mtrans) | Email: Post: 74 MAYFIELD KLONDYKE ROAD, MAYFIELD, ASHBURTON 7778 | WWW.MAYFIELDTRANSPORT.NZ Proud to support Rata Peaks Station Southern Velvet Buyers LTD Velvet and Hard Antler Buyers Contact: 0274 324 215