Business Rural Summer 2021

44 | DEER » Rothesay Deer Discovering a lasting passion for deer Virginia Wright D onald Greig has been working with deer for over forty years having started back in the days when helicopters were used for meat- recovery and live-capture in the 1970’s and 80’s. That was the start of the deer industry and Donald discovered a lasting passion for the animal which brought him to where he is now: farming around 1500 deer on Rothesay Farm split between Methven and Mt. Somers. The farm started as one of the “rehab blocks” established by the govern- ment for returned servicemen after the second world war. Donald’s father Tom chose it with its reli- able rainfall in mind and used the name Rothesay for his stud, in honour of his Scottish ancestors and their small village on the Isle of Butte. The ride to where Donald is now hasn’t always been smooth, and Rothesay Farm hit some tough times. In Donald’s father Tom’s time the farm was more than twice the current size and he had both a Hereford and a Romney stud. When the industry took a downturn the cattle went and Tom pushed more into cropping while retaining the sheep. Donald’s brother bought the larger part of the farm but was hit by the 28% interest rates of the Roger Douglas era and forced to sell. Around that time Donald introduced a small number of deer to the remaining home farm despite his father’s reluc- tance. “My father wasn’t that keen on the deer to start with but the terrain was suitable and once we got a foothold and got the breeding going he turned right around.’ In those early days Donald was heavily involved in the Safari industry as well but as the stock num- bers grew he became a full-time deer farmer and Rothesay Farm gradually transformed into the 150 hectare deer farm it is today. 70 or so of those hectares tucked under Mt. Somers are particularly suitable for successful breeding being isolated enough to be undisturbed which supports a high fawning percentage. The remaining hectares support the farm’s stag produc- tion, and Donald’s passion for breeding antlers for either trophy or velvet, as he explains. “We’ve kept a foot in both camps because you get the ups and downs and you can have a trophy stag that’s still a very good velvet animal, and velvet’s the only thing saving the deer industry at the moment. Trophies went from being hero to zero because of Covid and the bottom dropping out of the Safari industry.” Before the arrival of Covid Rothesay Farm bred and grew out 100 trophy stags a year for the hunting industry which were sold to game parks all round New Zealand. With no market to sell to last year and no room on the farm to keep them they Donald says that the trophy stags are getting bigger due to Covid-19. Son Thomas with Donald and his wife Diana. had no choice but to send the older ones to the works once they’d taken their velvet. The hit on the hospitality market overseas at the same time means the venison market was also down so Donald’s hard won foresight in splitting his focus to include breeding for the velvet market, alongside the meat and trophy market, is what’s keeping the farm afloat. Although a lot of good animals went to the works last year plenty of healthy animals will be available as always for their annual on-farm sale on January 10th next year which will be held in conjunction with the live-stock selling platform bidr. “We sell a line of breeding stags for antlers, yearling hinds, and around 30 velvet stags,” says Donald. “We also have a line of Eastern composite stags which combine venison and velvet, and they’re good for their antlers as well.” He’s hoping the outlook worldwide might have improved by then. “Hopefully last year was the bottom and meat prices lift a wee bit. The world supply chain just has to get going after Covid so the market around the world can pick up.”