Leading the way in Deer Farming
For someone without an agricultural background who came to farming as a second career, Graham Carr has successfully established himself as a world leader in red deer genetics.
For someone without an agricultural background who came to farming as a second career, Graham Carr has successfully established himself as a world leader in red deer genetics. Carr owns Peel Forest Estate – one of the largest stud deer farms in the world. The stud strives to achieve the world’s best genetics, specialising in trophy and velvet, as well as superior venison supplied to Silver Fern Farms. Peel Forest Estate runs 9,000 deer, with another few thousand fawns soon to join them on the South Canterbury property, which comprises more than 2,800 hectares.
Carr worked in the timber business in England until he was 36, at which point he left the industry in the hopes of finding a new profession. Deer farming Down Under caught his attention and he settled in New Zealand in 1987, buying a sheep and beef property that he converted into a deer farm. “It fired me up and I developed a passion for it, and I’ve been here ever since farming deer,” he says. Fast forward more than 30 years and Carr owns a farm that is the largest source of superior deer genetics in NZ. Carr was interested early in his farming career in improving NZ deer by importing better genetics from Europe.
Since then, Carr has invested heavily in genetics from all over the world, developing superior bloodlines using the latest breeding technology and cross-herd genetic analysis. In doing so, Carr has strived to establish a strong source of top genetics for the deer industry, both in NZ and abroad. “The goal is quite simple – it’s to supply to the industry the type of animal required to improve productivity and therefore profitability,” explains Carr.
When it comes to venison, the Peel Forest Estate breeding programme focuses on two lines: Forrester Maternal Sires and B11 Terminals. Forresters are bred for hardiness, solid body conformation, fertility and to pass on high growth rates to their offspring. Benefits of the B11 include mating more hinds, mating for the whole mating season, and an appealing shape and size. Peel Forest Estate works hard to breed deer that produce the optimal amount of meat in the prime areas of the animal, adding value to the product.
SUSTAINABILITY & WELFARE
Carr says his breeding programme has given him direction and joy in life, and it’s clear that caring for his animals is a source of pride, too. Maintaining animal welfare standards starts with breeding deer that thrive in the Peel Forest Estate environment. “If they thrive, you are looking after their wellbeing, you’re looking after their health, and those things are important for me to run a viable business,” says Carr. Peel Forest Estate utilises state-of-the-art technology to breed animals in top physical condition. An example of a recent innovation being implemented at the estate is the CARLA Saliva Test, which helps to select animals with greater immunity. “It makes a huge difference if we can breed that into them, rather than to drench,” says Carr. “It’s a major step forward and it is now very much a part of the breeding programme.”
Steps have also been taken to support the deers’ wellbeing while simultaneously caring for the environment. “It’s essential that shade is a consideration for the animals’ welfare. We are planting a lot of woodlands on the farm to let the animals get out of the heat,” says Carr. “We have to not only grow a lot of trees but we have to protect them. It’s expensive, but it’s essential in order to achieve what we’re aiming for.” Peel Forest Estate also undertook a major project to restore waterways and wetlands, and to fence them off from livestock, which has improved the water and soil quality. “Nobody wants to see their farm animals in an unfriendly environment, so that is very important to us,” says Carr. “It also, of course, has become more and more important for consumers and that’s another driving force. But primarily, as far as I’m concerned, I like to look after my animals, I like to see them in an environment which they feel is natural to them.”
In addition to prioritising animal welfare, Peel Forest Estate is committed to mitigating the environmental impacts associated with farming activities. The estate’s focus on genetics assists with this – having more productive animals affects greenhouse gas emissions with the ability to produce more from a smaller environmental footprint. Carr notes the environmental measures put in place have been a big undertaking considering the size of the farm. “To do it on a large scale like this is rather unusual,” he says. “It’s a big operation and there’s a lot going into making it not just a big commercial operation but a really well-thought-out sustainable operation.”
With clear sustainability and animal welfare goals, it’s necessary for Peel Forest Estate to align with like-minded partners such as Silver Fern Farms. Carr has had such a long partnership with Silver Fern Farms that he doesn’t actually recall how it started, but he certainly knows his reasons for the ongoing relationship. “They keep us very much informed with what’s going on not only in our market here as far as from farm gate to processor, but also the retail market, and so we can get an idea of where things are heading,” he says. “The other reason why we enjoy working with Silver Fern Farms is that they have an excellent brand and we like associating with people of a high standard of production and product. We take pride in what we do here. On the breeding side of our stud, we pride ourselves on the animals that we send out to our clients and that they are performing well for them. We also pride ourselves on the quality of the animals that go to the meat processors. We want to make sure they become the best products and we’re very, very comfortable with Silver Fern Farms’ premium quality.”
Looking towards the future of Peel Forest Estate, Carr is satisfied with the work being done but won’t rest on his laurels. “We feel that we’re very much on the right track, we’re getting very good feedback. However, you can’t get complacent, and there will be other issues that no doubt turn up that we will have to try and overcome through genetics,” he says. “So, it’s a matter of trying to improve what we’re doing, improving the growth rates of the deer without losing their ability to have strong constitutions and enjoy life.”
In addition to consistently working to find the right combination of genetics for the deer, Carr says Peel Forest Estate will be focusing on its tree-planting programme. “Those are the two drivers here for the future,” he says. “It’s a matter of trying to continually improve the environment in which the animals live for their welfare.”