• Deer Genetics NZ, Geraldine, South Canterbury
A trophy breeding, velvet buying and live deer, semen and embryo selling business owned by father and son Don and Kelly Bennett. Sale and trophy stags plus AI-embryo donor hinds are run on the 110ha home block at Woodbury. The remaining hinds are run on 220ha at Gapes Valley.
• Deer – 4000 stock units
450 mixed-age hinds
A three-way trophy, genetics and velvet buying business makes life hectic at times for Kelly Bennett, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
He loves the hands-on side of growing trophy stags, grins and bears the compliance requirements of international semen selling, and takes great pride in the many national trophy winners produced by the family company Deer Genetics NZ.
The sale of trophy sires has been the mainstay of the business for the past 15 years. Every year the heads of 140 two-year-old stags are grown out, and if suitable, sold as sires. Each stag’s antler is scored then removed – it’s a time-consuming exercise but the measurement and genetic information gained is invaluable.
“Sometimes the data you get back is astounding because often it doesn’t comeout the way you think it will,” Kelly says.
The maternal genetics behind the best scoring antlers are identified and bred to specially chosen sires to produce a particular antler style. Furzeland, Warnham, and East European genetics have been used to develop a composite breed that leaves stags with a distinctive style of antler.
“What we’re after is width and length with big open tops.”
Up to $60,000 a year is spent on the AI (artificial insemination) of 200 hinds and embryo transfer (ET) of another 15 hinds. The ET process, carried out by Deer Reproduction Service and South Canterbury vet Noel Beatson, usually nets four-and-a-half to five fertilised eggs from each hind.
“The payback takes three years but when you analyse what’s coming through at our stag sale a high percentage are directly or indirectly from ET.”
Growing out 100 of the older stags for outfitters requires diverse pastures and quality feeding at crunch times. One-third of their 110ha Woodbury farm is autumn sown with chicory, plantain, white and red clover mix for spring and summer grazing by stags after button drop. Stags over winter have ad-lib access to fodder beet and quality silage.
When buttons are cast in mid-August they’re supplemented with deer nuts and separated into mobs of 30 for growing out of antler.
The trophy breeding focus was a natural progression for the Bennetts.
Kelly’s father Don, a former stock agent, started his own business to concentrate on deer in the mid-1980s. In the early 1990s they started road buying velvet all over New Zealand, giving them a good overview of the velvet and antler market.
They diversified into the supply of stag semen and a limited number of embryos for both NZ and overseas customers 15 years ago. Demand has dampened in recent years, although interest from overseas customers, particularly in North America, is growing.
“The market has changed because there are now a lot of good stags out there, but if you analyse the trophy genetics more than 60% can be traced back to our sires.”
Over the same period the type of trophy antler demanded has changed.
“It used to be a short main bean without many points but that’s changed to a wide head and up to a 45-inch beam with often up to 30-plus points.”
They have Ministry for Primary Industries-approved quarantine facilities where the stags spend 30 to 60 days before semen collection. The collection happens immediately before or after the roar, meaning the stags can be difficult to handle.
“It’s not a job for the faint-hearted.”
Don and Kelly Bennett’s Deer Genetics NZ supplied semen for the infamous kiwifruit liqueur, yoghurt, and semen cocktail served at the Green Man Pub in Wellington as part of last year’s Monteith’s Wild Food Challenge (Country-Wide
, October 2013). Kelly doesn’t doubt the quality of the genetics supplied but didn’t feel inclined to sample the stag’s milkshake. Word obviously spread about the unique ingredient because he was recently approached about the possibility of supplying more of the stuff for an Australian TV adventure programme.
Kelly and his partner Felicia were conveners of the first South Island Xcell Rising Stars hard antler and velvet competition showcasing antler and velvet from one-, two- and three-year-old stags.
In the past the event has been held in the North Island but the intention is to regularly rotate between the two islands.
The competition, held at the Woodbury Hall near Geraldine in February, ran smoothly thanks to assistance from the North Island organising committee of Graham and Shelley Lawson, Bill Robinson, and Hub Hall, Kelly says.
The recognition by the NZ tourism industry of professional guided hunting as a Qualmark-endorsed visitor activity was good news for the deer trophy industry, Todd Stewart, a professional hunting guide and executive committee member of the NZ Association of Game Estates, says.
“We used to work alongside the tourism industry but official endorsement means we have more avenues of support from them.”
He said demand for NZ safari hunting experiences had picked up with the strengthening United States economy and professional guides were reporting solid demand this year and for the following season.
According to the NZ Professional Hunting Guides Association, the 70 member operators generate $45 million of revenue.
kell1.jpg – These 18-month-old hinds include AI and ET progeny.
kell2.jpg – The key to Deer Genetics NZ progress has been the identification of superior dam lines, Kelly Bennett says.
kell3.jpg – Tags with key information are attached to the many antler heads that hang along a shed wall.
kell4.jpg – A truckload of Pinus radiata is brought in every year for stags to strip their antlers on. It takes only one hour for a mob of stags to leave the tree looking like this.
kell5.jpg – Semen straws are stored in liquid nitrogen.