The large scale commercial farming of deer started in New Zealand, and New Zealand remains the world's largest and most advanced deer farming industry.

Deer are not native to New Zealand. The first deer were brought to New Zealand from England and Scotland for sport in the mid-late 19th century, and released mainly in the Southern Alps and foothills. The environment proved ideal and wild populations grew uncontrolled. By the middle of the 20th century wild deer were regarded as a pest because of their impact on the environment and native forests.

The export of venison from wild deer started in the 1960s, turning a pest into an export earner.  Industry pioneers saw an opportunity to build on this base and in the early 1970s started capturing live deer from the wild and farming them. A new industry was born and rapidly spread throughout New Zealand.

Second Generation
Second generation deer products were born as industry pioneers seized an opportunity to build on this beginning and the first deer farming license was issued in 1970. This business was based on capturing live deer from the wild and farming them for well-established markets for venison in Europe. Scientific knowledge, expertise and genetics from Europe and North America were used to develop farmed animals, and markets grew profitably along with the usual growing pains particularly in the early part of the new millennium. Since 2006, prices and markets have been relatively stable and the deer industry has acted in a well-coordinated way, industry marketing campaigns have had a positive impact and marketers have cultivated new customers and therefore demand.

Third Generation
As a result, the New Zealand deer industry is moving towards a third generation of deer products. This next generation acknowledges how far the New Zealand deer industry has come in little more than a generation since its founding pioneers first developed relationships and markets. The industry recognises there is commercial opportunity to more sustainably supply peak market demand in venison markets, meet unmet demand in existing markets and to support marketers’ aspirations to grow new markets particularly in North Asia.

Deer velvet[1] and deer co-products (tails, pizzles and sinews) are critical in this third generation. Velvet and deer co-products have been prized in traditional oriental medicine for over two millennia in North Asian markets (South Korea, Taiwan and China). South Korea is a market of discerning, sophisticated consumers who demand quality and convenience and are willing to pay for it. The New Zealand velvet industry is expanding from being a supplier of base raw materials to an ingredients’ supplier to large consumer brands and Chaebol[2].

[1] Deer velvet is the growing antler of the male deer. It is removed under a strictly controlled industry programme to ensure the welfare of the stag. It is a wellness tonic primarily used as an immunity booster at the beginning of winter and to tonify the kidney. It is considered the strongest animal derived source of yang energy.

[2] South Korean business conglomerates, similar to the former Japanese zaibatsu.