This past year has been a very quiet one due to COVID19 keeping recreational hunters away over the April to September periods when we see most activity. However established deer harvesters are moving in the community. Again, we have continued to monitor opportunities to be involved in the deer space with the ultimate aim of making a difference to our community.
It is noted that deer activity seems to have lessened, they are there but due to consistent hunting over a period of years many are more wary of wandering to far into farmland and farmers changing their own practices. We are seeing more farmers erecting Deer proof fencing but it seems limited cost being a big factor.
The local Harvesters that supply the commercial businesses are well established and accepted by the local community. Simon Feillafe provided an up-date on Deer and the deer harvesting initiative and how it is working in our community, the article was published in the Bush n Bull and is also available on our website.
Externally I continue to represent the Mitta Valley Landcare Group at regional level The meetings involve many government and regional Landcare groups to discuss developments in this space. Again due to COVID only one meeting was scheduled for March 2 this year as a Post Fire Deer Forum in Wangaratta. Due to COVID restrictions on movement hitting at the same time I did not attend this meeting so am unsure if it in fact went ahead. Last year I reported that we were awaiting the final report from the Victorian State Government on what initiatives they are prepared to back to help landholders with this problem . This report has now arrived and can be viewed on-line on our website under News articles on the Homepage.
Forward:The Mitta Valley Landcare Group has been actively involved in recent years with an on-going project around deer; recognising the threat that deer are to our environment and our landholdings. It is not just their physical presence and the destruction they cause but the sheer numbers, that we have seen build over the years. There has been a level of inactivity over the last 12 months in this space regarding government policy on handling the problem, however the big change has been the Professional Deer Harvesting initiative that was introduced over two years ago. Our new Landcare Facilitator Simon Feillafe provides us with an up- date on progress in this space.
At a recent Mitta Valley Landcare Meeting at Eskdale, the question of “What is happening in This Space?” was asked. To provide context to this article, I have worked in the environmental field, mainly for North East Landcare Groups over the last 20 plus years, I have hunted all my life and have provided deer as a professional deer harvester to the 3 main organisations that receive deer.
Some landholders have been changing their management, as a result of increasing deer numbers and issues with hunters/recreational shooters. There are a lot of farmers that are now adapting or erecting fences to discourage deer. Most involve electric fencing, which vary in construction, price and effect. Some fences are very effective and do remove the issue of deer.
Another adaption I have noticed over the last 5 years, is that some farmers are grazing their paddocks that adjoin the bush lines hard, by the onset of winter. While leaving the paddocks away from the bush alone as part of their grazing rotation. For an illustration of this, in July I went shooting on a property that recently grazed all their paddocks adjoining the bush over about 3km, and there was only one Spiky Sambar in the area. While on the adjoining property there was a lot of improved grass along the bush boundary, within the first 2km of walking, I was able to fill my vehicle with deer. The first property usually has a lot of deer and grass, but the deer move for good feed. Yet a little over a month prior (last time there) we recovered 34 Sambar over 2 nights, only stopping each night as there was no room for more deer. In this case there was good feed, and nearly no moon in the sky. (The reason for not being there in over a month is that a Sambar stag fell on me, so time to have a break!.)
There are a large number of landholders / recreational shooters now buying Thermal and Infrared spotting scopes and rifle scopes. For many people shooting this way keeps the landholder in control and for many it is a social activity, particularly since accompanying parties can generally watch what is going on through their phones. The quality of equipment and their reliability varies a lot for what is generally an expensive purchase, so do your research before purchasing.
One of the benefits of so many people harvesting deer in the region, is the number of people now utilizing venison, with some good and not so good culinary experiences. The picture below is of some deer that have just been processed into various sausages such as Boerewors, Borwurst, Bratwurst, Chorizo, Strazburg, Cabana, Chifotle, etc, with pork fat added.
Many people may not know that there are a range of deer and other pest species in the North East. Sambar are by far the most common, followed by Fallow, Red and Red/ Elk crosses, each behave differently and have a different flavour profile. The 2 pictures below show some deer and pigs that I harvested in the region.
The Professional Harvesting Initiative:
The general consensus is that where professional harvesters have regularly entered properties, the deer have been kept in check. Currently, there are about 10 harvesters in the North East who are providing the majority of the deer to processors. This equates to over 200 deer a week at this point in time.
It has been reported by one of the professional harvesters working in Hancocks Forests that 97 deer were taken in July and an estimated 2,000 over the last two years, over various properties. One would like to think that the removal of these sorts of numbers would be having some localized impacts on the population of deer.
Currently there are three main processors in-taking the deer, there is a fourth processor that some shooters have taken deer directly to, which is located at Seymour.
Corryong Abattoir or Colac Colac Knackery
The Colac Colac firm process deer for pet food. Currently shooters are paid $2.30kg for what is usable, and this has worked out to be about $1.90kg for an equivalent animal to what the other 2 processors provide. Currently they process between 50 to 70 per week.
Contact details: Cassey Phone: 0409 009 326
From approximately June 2020 Koallah Farm started receiving deer for both human and pet food processing. Currently a Chiller (semi trailer) is located at Kiewa. Currently payment to the shooter is $2kg.
Contact details: Steve email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Phone: 035 594 5222
Wild Game Resources
Currently Wild Game Resources are receiving 100 to 120 deer a week, though from April 2021 they are aiming to take 300 deer a week, which are delivered primarily to Howlong NSW.
Currently payments to the shooter is $2kg and $.50kg to the landholders. (This is gutted and head off) I have averaged 86kg per Sambar, which is $43 a deer to landholders currently.
Since 2015 the MVLG has lead a Project based around Deer and the impact of the ever increasing numbers on our environment and the economic losses it creates for Landholders.
As many of our members are aware, from 2015 to the present day, we have participated in and held a number of Community and Regional meetings to gather information and identify the major issues the emergence of this new pest is creating.
These events identified four broad categories:
Deer, People, Productivity and Environmental Issues.
On a regional scale, this past year has seen some exciting developments occur due to the focused work that has been carried out at grass roots level by Landcare Groups, such as ourselves, in the North East. We have been ably assisted and supported by the North East Catchment Authority, and in particular Lachlan Campbell, I wish to thank you for that support as we all work towards the goal of managing deer and the impacts they create, as it is only by working together that much can be achieved. Regionally our group has had a place at the Regional discussions held twice a year in Wangaratta and which include stakeholders representing from diverse areas of DELWP DETJAR, Parks Victoria, The Game Management Authority,. Regional Shire Councils, CMA’s, VICPOL, ADA and I have most likely overlooked others. From these discussions it became paramount if things were to change to address some critical areas such as carcass removal and use, that the Victorian Legislation was going to have to change to allow for commercial opportunities to allow the harvesting of wild deer for both pet food and human consumption. These legislation changes were passed only around one month ago. This decision has opened up commercial opportunities for those who want to make a transition to a professional shooter or landholders who are looking to control deer numbers and make a passive income. In short this is a “real game changer” and a win win for both harvesters and landholders. WILD Game Resources Australia have been approved by the Vic Govt to develop a model that ensures the professionalism, integrity and quality of the entire collection system. Our group has had the privilege to be a part of this consultation process which will ultimately develop the best model for both harvesters and landholders.
At a local level, we continue to hold events around Deer and this past year we hosted Dave Forsyth an eminent researcher who has looked at methods of managing deer.
We have also purchased some No Hunting Signs for our local community which are available here today.
We continue to monitor opportunities to be involved in this space with the ultimate aim of making a difference to our community and to that end, I have been involved in some local projects such as the Hunting Tourism Initiative led by the Towong Shire Council and spoken at various other venues around the opportunities that exist for commercial businesses around deer and hunting. June. Its been a busy but productive year.