The history of deer farming is an interesting one built on the pioneering entrepreneurial spirit that seems to come naturally to New Zealanders. Deer are not native to New Zealand, a land that has no native land mammals. Deer were originally introduced to New Zealand in the late 1800’s from Great Britain and released into the wild to provide sport for the European settlers. Over the next ½ century the wild deer multiplied rapidly and with no predators, began to damage the fragile New Zealand native forests with their uncontrolled browsing. In the 1960’s, following a 30-year period where the government enlisted professional hunters to cull the wild deer population, some entrepreneurs recognized that the large numbers of deer offered an economic opportunity to export venison to Europe, where it was a favored dish. In the next decade hunting deer became so lucrative that the wild deer population dwindled to a point where deer farming became an obvious means of continuing to supply the rapidly growing European market for New Zealand venison. In 1970 the first deer farming license was issued.
Farming the deer allowed a vast improvement in the quality of venison produced. Animals could be breed, feed and selected for better meat production. All deer are processed through government approved abattoirs, so the hygiene, traceability and food safety of farmed venison is much better and cannot be compared to a wild shot product.
The US began importing farm-raised venison from New Zealand in 1975 and while it remains a small volume, scarce treat, volumes have grown steadily since then. New technology made it possible for more than half the New Zealand venison to be shipped fresh chilled instead of frozen. Its consistent high quality, distinctive flavor, and naturally-raised profile soon caught the attention of chefs in the United States. In 1992 the Cervena™ appellation was introduced. This trademark gives purchasers a guarantee that they are buying the best venison available, fully backed by quality assurance programs that guarantee naturally raised, farmed venison. Cervena venison soon appeared on fine dining restaurant menus throughout the US.
Today there are an estimated 3,200 farms in New Zealand with deer. These farms range in size from smaller lifestyle properties to extensive stations. There are approximately 1.3 million deer farmed in New Zealand (est. 30 June 2008) - half the world’s farmed deer population. The farms are split roughly 30 percent in the North Island and 70 percent in the South Island.
Industry Leader in Quality Assurance
New Zealand has led the industry in establishing international quality standards, including all-natural feeding, free range grazing, record management, animal transport and processing. To the New Zealand deer industry, QUALITY is the essential element of its philosophy. It takes a broad view of the definition, including animal welfare, animal health, food safety, identification and traceability, and environmental sustainability in addition to the quality of the venison itself as part of their quality assurance programs.
Managed by Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ), Cervena licensee quality assurance programs are based on a “pasture to plate” concept that adheres to strict quality programs. Technical Committees meet several times a year to review the program guidelines and receive and make recommended amendments. The Committee is responsible for updating the Industry Standards manuals and procedures based on real feedback from assessors and independent auditors, venison processors and marketing representatives.
A large percentage of the NZ deer farms comply with company Quality Assurance programs; accredited farmers are audited on a regular basis to assure that farm practices are in compliance with the QA standards.
For additional information on DINZ and its Deer QA program, visit their website www.deernz.org