Hill and High Country Systems: Special Considerations

Hill and High Country Systems: Special Considerations

Why the focus on hill and high country?

Increase in its importance to deer farming industry

Over the last 10-15 years there has been a marked trend towards deer farming on lower productivity, non-arable land - our hill and high-country. This type of land has traditionally been the preserve of sheep and beef cattle dry-stock farming, but more recently deer have also been very successfully integrated into these systems. Deer are farmed there ‘extensively’ in that compared with ‘intensive’ systems on better quality, lowland pastures, they use lower stocking rates and larger paddock and herd sizes.

Deer farmers have recognised that deer biology favours the hill and high-country environments. For example, the complex environments that characterise hill and high-country offer more scope to farmers to provide breeding hinds with more suitable habitats to give birth and successfully rear their calves.

Need to farm this environment sustainably

Deer farming systems typically involve stocking densities far greater than those of wild populations, so care is needed to manage the balance between optimal economic productivity and maintaining the integrity of the environment, particularly its biodiversity, soil quality and water quality.

The summary of this study is broken down into discrete topics as listed below; just click on those of interest.

  1. What defines ‘hill country’ and ‘high country’?
  2. What are the main issues concerning high country deer farmers?
  3. What research has been done into high country deer grazing?
  4. Where do hinds range in the high country?
  5. When are hinds active?
  6. What habitats do breeding hinds prefer at calving time?
  7. Do adverse weather events affect a hind’s habitat usage?
  8. Do deer avoid some areas?
  9. Are home range sizes constant at all times of year?
  10. What impacts do deer have on vegetation and plant biodiversity?
  11. How can I determine the optimum hill/high country stocking rate?
  12. Show me the science

The most commonly used NZ land classification system is the ‘Land Use Capability Class’ or LUC Class.

This question was asked of a group 20 South Island hill and high-country farmers in 2011.
AgResearch, as commissioned by DEEResearch, has focussed on the breeding hind, with particular emphasis on habitat utilisation over the summer calving period.
Red deer breeding hinds each establish a specific home range, which often overlaps with others, and they also use certain preferred types of vegetation within large hill and high-country calving paddocks.
Pregnant hinds are more active during the day than at night. Set-stocking within large hill and high-country paddocks provides hinds with an environment - free from human disturbances - in which they feel relatively safe and secure. This could reduce the stress levels of hinds over the calving period, which is important for calf survival.
Hinds travel a significant amount 1-2 days before giving birth, move very little for up to a week thereafter, then over several weeks gradually return to normal ranging behaviour.

Over the summer calving period, hinds do not change their movements (e.g. actively seek shelter) in response to high rainfall episodes or strong winds.

The effective grazing area of a paddock, which excludes any large paddock areas likely to be avoided by deer, should be taken into account when selecting deer stocking rates.
Over winter, hind home ranges are similar in size to those over calving and they continue to prefer pasture areas, followed by tussock, and then scrub areas.
Overall plant species diversity is not significantly affected by medium-term deer grazing.
There is no off-the-shelf figure for an ideal high country deer stocking rate - the rate appropriate to particular country depends on a combination of factors.
Relevant full research papers that cover issues mentioned in the study in more detail.