Farm layout and yard design have an important bearing on the efficiency of a deer farm and the ease of stock management.
It is desirable that the manager of a deer farm lives on the property because this makes supervision easier and may deter poachers. Also, if the deer are familiar with the manager and his vehicle, they are much quieter and easier to handle. Vehicle access is advisable, because at times it may be necessary to bring in large trucks to move stock into or off a property.
To move stock easily, paddocks should be connected to a raceway leading to the yards. This seems to be the only way of yarding stock successfully. The race should be large enough to channel deer from a holding or collecting area towards the yards, and should taper to a width of 2 – 3 m at the yard entrance. A bend in the race just before it enters the yards may reduce the risk of animals breaking back at the last minute.
If it is not possible to arrange for a central raceway with all paddocks having direct access to it, the race should lead from a collecting paddock and follow the natural contour of the land to the yards.
To make movement of stock around the farm as easy as possible, the siting of gates must be carefully planned. Deer prefer to run uphill rather than down. Gates at the bottom of a slope should be avoided as deer can leap over very high barriers if given a downhill run.
There is some controversy over whether the best location for a gate is in a corner or in the middle of a fence line. Some deer farmers maintain that gates should be in the centre of a fence line, so that deer can move away from them as quickly as possible. Others claim corner gates are just as satisfactory. Whichever location is chosen, it seems that familiarity of the stock with the position of gates is the key to successful movement through them.
This is of some significance during mating and calving. In small paddocks (less than 10 ha), dominant stags can hold more hinds in harems than they can mate. Where multisire mating is practised, paddocks should not be smaller than 1.5 ha. Large paddocks can be temporarily subdivided into smaller areas for break feeding. Subdivision enables grazing management and pasture control.
Deer fit well into a rotational grazing system and this is the best way of allocating feed to stock. Enough paddocks should be provided for both the breeding herd and young stock. It is an advantage to have some small paddocks near the yards in which to graze stags for velveting. Some paddocks should be large enough to cater for future herd expansion.
This is possibly not very important, but long narrow ones could have an advantage for stock movement into a central race system. Ease of stock movement is a major consideration with fallow deer, and the provision of wing fences is perhaps more important than the shape of the paddock.
Fences around deer farms do not need to be of the same height to confine all species of deer, as some species jump higher than others. It should be kept in mind that under certain conditions deer jump higher than they normally would. For example, a rutting red deer stag can easily jump over a 1.83 m fence. Also, if an area is too confined, a dominant red deer may force the others to jump across fences as high as 2.10 m (Blaxter et al, 1974).
Perimeter fences should be higher than the internal fences between individual paddocks, in order to ensure that no deer will escape from a farm.
Perimeter fences should be 2 m high and subdivisional fences 1.6 m. Wire mesh is better than single wires on internal fences, since the singe-wired fence is not satisfactory in containing either calves or adult animals.
Fences can be supported by both wooden and iron posts. Wooden posts should be treated and spaced 4 – 5 m apart.
Fences should be constructed in as straight a line as possible, but deep gullies should be avoided because of the difficulties in keeping them escape free fences. When setting out a fence line the possibility of washouts under it occurring should be minimized and care taken to avoid the risk of trees falling across it.
Various types of fencing materials can be found on the market; some examples of commercial products made in New Zealand will be given, because these are amongst the best available.
The “tightlock” boundary fence is widely used, which has a “stiff-stay” construction with a tight grip knot. This knot, coupled with a double tension curve and a stiff onepiece stay, give the fence a long-life, stockproof performance.
The cyclone “twinlock” fence is constructed with a hinge joint knot that has double tension curves close to the knots which locate them. These provide double protection against shocks and strains when a fence is erected.
Both cyclone tightlock and twinlock fences can be erected on hilly country. A post should be located at each dip and high point and the fence should be lightly strained between the high points and subsequently pulled down to a post or a holding down device in a dip. Straining clamps should be used to strain up the whole fence together. Stay wires should be kept vertical and all line wires kept taut. Wires should always be sufficiently free to permit movement. Thus staples and ties should never “nip” the wires.
It is advisable to use straining clamps to strain-up the entire fence together - wires should not be strained separately. Where possible all angle posts should be strainers.
In case of a “tightlock” fence the impact load braces on strainers should not protrude into the paddock. The impact factor of a deer in contact with the fence is immediately spread right across the full height of the fence and for some distance on either side, thus dissipating the load. The diameter of mesh should be between 5 and 60 cm so that newly-born fawns cannot get through the fence.
A “hurricane” deer fence consists of 12 line wires, 180 cm high. In a permanent fence the mesh should be protected by a top wire 5 – 15 cm above the mesh.
Opinions vary as to how tight a fence should be. The manufacturer suggests 112/135 kg per wire. This will be achieved when the tension curves flatten out to about half their depth.
An electric wire run through a “Callagher offset bracket” about 35 cm from ground level has proved most effective in controlling doe fallow deer from getting under a fence and bucks from fighting through it. It will also stop fawns from getting through the fence when very young and protects the wire setting. Even though the electric shock will knock a fawn down, they do not seem to suffer any serious after effects.
In order to prevent new born deer from getting through a fence, fawning paddocks should either have extra wires added or have smaller mesh netting placed near the bottom of the fences. Four wire electric fences with 30 cm spacing between wires have been found satisfactory for control of grazing on flat land.
Some form of yard, no matter how simple, is essential on every deer farm right from the time it is first stocked. Yards are required for handling deer, removing velvet or veterinary treatment. There is no such thing as a “standard” deer yard: every farm has its own design, although many are variations of basic schemes (See figs. 2 to 7).
It is not necessary to build elaborate yards, especially if a herd is small. As long as there is a sufficient number of holding pens or paddocks, the actual yards for close handling of stock can be kept to a minimum. Good design makes provision for future extensions. Even when deer are kept in a yard temporarily, they should be given a space of 5 – 6 m2 per animal.
Yards should be as central as possible for stock movement to and from the various parts of a farm, but they are frequently located on the outer edge of a farm and connected to paddocks by a race system.
Manoeuvering stock into yards will be easier if they are located near to or within a grove of trees or bush. A sheltered spot also offers greater comfort and convenience for stock and workers.
Opinions differ as to whether access to yards should be uphill or down: deer are less likely to break back when moving downhill. If they break back when going uphill the outcome is potentially disastrous for fences and stock alike.
DEER YARD DESIGN 1
This simple set of yards is built into an existing shed. They consist basically of a circular crush with two swinging gates at one end of the barn and two pens at the other. Access to the pens from the crush is by a fixed weighing platform, with adjustable sides, which can also be used for veterinary inspection, etc. This basic design can be easily extended with the addition of other pens round the circle, thus, forming the covered and darkened handling section of a more extensive set of yards. (After Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, New Zealand)
DEER YARD DESIGN 2
Five completely covered and darkened pens are easily accessible from an open ‘D’ shaped crush which functions as an auction ring. Buyers obtain a clear view of stock in the ring from an embankment to the left. Deer move well in this design. (After Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, New Zealand)
DEER YARD DESIGN 3
This plan is very flexible and versatile. The outer ring can act as a circular race or be divided into up to eight pens of varying size.
The central, circular crush with its two gates and the gates of the outer ring allow multi-way drafting, either inwards or outwards.
A slight modification would allow direct access for stock from the entry race to the central circle if desired. The entry race is close boarded for about 9 m. (After Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, New Zealand)
DEER YARD DESIGN 4
A small, inexpensive design that would suit many small herds. It holds up to 100 animals and yet has the basic requirements of a circular crush pen and small pens leading off a central race. Although these yards are built in a totally enclosed shed, additions and alterations would be relatively simple. Large holding pens could be added around the shed. (After Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, New Zealand)
A reindeer corral: wings lead into a large holding pocket, two smaller holding pockets and chute. (After aerial photo in Stern et al, 1980)
Opinions as to the best techniques for yarding stock continue to change with the evolution of deer farming. Current trends for yards for red deer include the following features:
close-boarded, 2.1 – 2.4 m high;
main working areas covered and quite dark. This is especially important for harvesting velvet and when a lot of close contact with the deer is necessary;
plywood well supported on frames to avoid “drumming” on impact;
round pens to eliminate corners where stock will often climb on top of each other;
a central, circular crush pen from which deer can be manoeuvred into outside pens. The crush generally consists of two free-swinging gates which can revolve independently on a central pivot;
sheet or corrugated iron is avoided because it is noisy;
sand or sawdust floor;
storage facilities for equipment;
sheep-type drafting gates do not work very well. Hand drafting is easiest;
a long lead-in race, close-boarded for about 9 m out from the yards. Ideally, it should not be straight, but should offer an indirect approach so that the yards are hidden from the animals' view until the last moment.