Managing stress risk

Managing stress risk

The ability of a stockperson to recognise stress signs in deer and manage stress risk is key to efficient deer husbandry. Stress in deer negatively impacts on their production so it makes financial sense to have the necessary tools and skills to manage deer without causing them undue stress.

It is important when mustering deer in the paddock to be in control of the mob at all are the boss! This means that you need control the deer in a calm  and patient manner, but also be firm and confident so as to not allow individuals to break away from the mob. More detail on effective deer mustering can be found in the mustering section. Successful mustering is when you can retrieve an entire mob of hinds, such as those shown in the image below, from off the hill, through the yards, and have them back grazing without any stress for either the operator, or the deer.

In order to muster deer efficiently, the farm must be set up and fenced to facilitate deer movement. More detail can be found in the fencing section.

In the yards
Bringing deer into the yards usually involves running the deer down a central race from their paddock into the yards, and then following them up behind and closing the yard gate on them.

Before you bring the deer in it is important to set the gates up first to allow the mob to enter the yards. It is also advisable to scout around the yards and shed for any foreign objects around that may spook deer, e.g. a jacket hanging up in one of the pens. Deer will react to any object that is different to the norm, until they are assured it is harmless.

Make sure you have all the equipment ready at the shed before the deer are brought in. Any extra banging of doors, talking with loud voices or any excessive noise, getting gear ready for the operation is not good for deer stress levels.

Large mobs should be shedded-off in the yards into smaller mobs (12-20 animals at a time - depending on internal pen size) before they enter the shed, this reduces stress on the animals, and may reduce aggression within the shed. 

In the shed
Children and visitors should not be encouraged at the shed as this can stir the deer up. If visitors are at the shed, make sure they are out of sight until the deer are penned up. Any extra distraction is negative to deer stress levels.

Sorting deer in the shed should be done quietly and calmly. Talking to them in a quiet low voice helps.

The handler should always move amongst deer at close quarters, to prevent injury from kicks. Steering animals by gently pushing their hips or turning their necks in the direction you want them to move is generally effective. 

Pens should not be overfilled, the Deer code of welfare recommends as best practice specific area per animal or kg of liveweight. The area should be increased if animals are to be held greater than 24 hours. See Code of Recommendations and Minimum Standards for the transport of Stags with antler

Do not enter a pen of stags unless you are fully confident that they are harmless. It should be noted that even harmless stags are aggressive during the rut (approximately from February to June), it should be planned that no yarding should occur with stags during this time.

Good skills of observation are essential in a good stockman. It is crucial that you are conciously monitoring how the deer are reacting. When an individual animal is showing signs of nervousness it can quickly spread to the rest of the deer in the shed. Calming or removing the animal who is becoming agitated can reduce nervousness for the rest of the mob.

Bringing hinds and fawns in at the same time must be carefully planned to reduce injury to the fawns. I tis necessary to seperate the fawns from the hinds once they are in the shed. Fawns can be easily injured or trampled by the hinds. Plan where the fawns will be drafted out to before bringing the mob in.

Some farmers recommend that deer be brought into the yard in the morning, and have a chance to settle in the yards before penning them up in the shed. Others say that shedding up should be avoided on excessively windy days, because the deer are already stirred up. The most essential aim of the exercise is to have the deer move through the yarding and shed system with as little stress as possible, and a well designed shed and yards make this possible. More detail of this can be found in the Shed design section.

Effective stress risk managment is being able to recognise stress signs in animals, be able to mitigate the stressful situation, and have the necessary facilities and farm set up to allow efficient and safe deer handling.