It was the economics of deer farming that attracted Andy and Barbara Russell to the industry 11 years ago. Now, it’s the First Light structure and marketing approach that keep him involved.
Andy winters about 1,400 rising one and two-year olds on two Manawatu properties, running weaner stags at 10 to the hectare on 90ha at Ohakea, with the hinds farmed on 60ha of the home block at Himitangi. He moves the hinds on to the Ohakea farm as feed allows in spring, enabling him to spread his other business — his dairy herd — on to the deer pastures. It’s a system that works well, he says.
Andy is also a First Light Venison director. He says First Light offers a great marketing model that helps farmers to escape the swings and cycles of the commodity meat trade. “Under commodity-based systems a farmer’s market is the breeder below him and the works above him in the supply chain — and when he buys his weaners he has no way of knowing what he will receive from the market when he sells six months later. It’s a gamble. With First Light we are closer to our market, we have strong relationships and more certainty about our returns.
“It’s a sustainable model. It’s not always easy — we have to invest in our farming systems to meet our customers’ needs, but it takes a lot of the risk out of deer farming,” says Andy.