Early wild deer in New Zealand were generally healthy, as they were well fed and had plenty of space. However, as their numbers increased they began to get diseases associated with malnutrition and stress. Bovine tuberculosis and parasitic infection were widespread in wild herds and became problems from the 1970s when deer were caught for farming. Even so, the death rate of deer on farms is low compared with sheep and cattle. The group at greatest risk are young deer from birth to weaning, and those 10–12 months old at the end of spring. A three-year study of deer deaths on South Canterbury farms, compiled in 2000, showed that 34% of hinds’ and 47% of stags’ deaths were a result of disease.
Losses due to accidents
Some 10–20% of deaths of farmed deer may be due to accidents, so farm facilities and management need to be of a high standard. Many accidents occur in poorly designed deer yards, and a quiet but firm approach when handling deer can avoid harm to animals and handlers.
The government’s Code of Welfare (Deer) describes the minimum standards for handling facilities, feeding and nutrition, and health treatment and care to ensure deer are kept healthy and free of stress.