Venison sales are currently enjoying exponential sales increases, with some supermarkets recording year-on-year growth in excess of 90 per cent. The meat is low in cholesterol and low in fat and is being positioned as a healthy alternative to beef. Overall the market is reckoned to be growing at 25 per cent per year. As UK producers rush to get into domestic production – a gap currently filled by imports – the demand for infrastructure, including fencing is increasing strongly.
Whether it’s keeping them in or keeping them out – as required by forestry operators – deer fencing presents one of the toughest challenges for the fencing contractor. Deer will do almost anything to get at those juicy saplings on the forestry plantation, so there is a big economic incentive to get the fencing right. That means speaking to Tornado, who know the difference when it comes to both the generalities and the specifics of deer fencing.
The key difference of a deer fence, compared to other livestock fencing, is that deer jump, while cattle and sheep do not. The additional height, sometimes with a plain wire running along the top, provides an effective barrier, whether the requirement is to keep deer in or out. High tensile deer fence when properly built will have high strength, visibility, reliability and require low maintenance.
Within these general principles, there are number of specific variables, with which Tornado is familiar and about which the company can talk to contractors in a language they understand. These include the requirements for different fencing for different deer breeds, different environments and different applications.
The market for deer inclusion fencing (as opposed to exclusion from forestry) is a relatively new one, and one where there is a hunger for contractor education. “There are some different techniques involved with deer fencing,” says Dominic Strutt of Rural Crafts & Countryside Management, “mainly to do with using products of the correct size for the additional height. People have to be aware that with a 2m fence, you get greater leverage than with a stock fence. So you need good materials, posts of the right length and to install box strainers where necessary.”
Tornado is keen to support contractors by offering training, seminars and forums where best practice can be shared about the challenges presented by deer fencing. “We have found Tornado to be extremely helpful,” says Dominic. “They have a good team of sales guys, who offer excellent back-up support.”
According to Rupert Gardner of Midlands-based Gardner Fencing, the choice of knot is quite critical in this sector. “When you’re talking about enclosure of red deer, the Titan knot is really what you’re looking for. Fencing is more likely to suffer impact in this type of application than in an exclusion application. The Titan knot remains just as strong, even after it has taken a hit.”
Titan is the product of choice in this sector, although Rupert always leaves the final decision to the customer, having explained the pros and cons of different products. “If we’re talking about a country estate, for instance, where the stocking density is low and the aesthetic aspects are more important, then the Torus product will be absolutely fine,” says Rupert.
Equally for exclusion applications, where the aim is to prevent deer from wandering into areas of tree plantation, the hinge joint type of knot is quite acceptable. This type of fencing is generally viewed as temporary, in that it is only required to be in place until the trees reach a certain size. The timbers used in exclusion fencing therefore do not need to be so robust, a factor which can be varied by using different species, post diameters and treatments.
Future challenges for the fencing contractor in the deer farming sector include a likely increase in the size of beasts involved. Since every extra kilo of meat means extra profit for the producer, the tendency will be to try and produce heavier animals over time, as has happened with sheep over recent decades. Deer farmers are already artificially crossing red deer with elk to create an animal which gets to a finished weight of 120 – 130kg a lot quicker than a pure red deer – 10 months, rather than 14 or 15.
Tom Harris has set up Harris Venison & Co within the last year, and is convinced that the venison market is here to stay this time. “The agricultural subsidy regime is different nowadays, compared to the 1980s, and deer farming is making a lot more sense economically, relative to beef. Fencing tends to be the biggest single cost, after buying the actual stock themselves, so it’s critical to get it right. Compared to others, we are not a big player, but we have 40 acres, divided into 8 paddocks, all of which interlink with raceways, gates and so on. So there is a lot of fencing.”
Andy Woods of ABM Fencing, based in Callander, Scotland, is finding that about 90 per cent of his work currently is in deer fencing – 50 per cent of this being inclusion and 50 per cent being exclusion, mainly for forestry. Contractors in Scotland are currently working on what will be Europe’s largest deer farm when it’s completed next year. “What we are finding is that these projects can be quite big, so the farmers are dividing the work over several years, as the enterprise grows,” he says. “The one we are doing now is 7,000m this year and will be 5,000m next year and probably another 5,000m the year after. We like the Tornado product in particular because it has the flexibility to retain tightness over rough ground, which we encounter a lot.”
An issue which concerns a number of contractors is the quality of the timber and the treatment processes being used for posts and strainers nowadays. Any problems here are magnified because of the height of the net and the type of animals being enclosed. Creosote is not as widely used as previously and there are issues with current tanalising treatments. It is also thought that the fast-growing sitka spruce that is increasingly used in the industry is not as durable as other slower-growing softwoods, and that there is a tendency not to dry the wood properly prior to treatment.
The deer farming sector is certainly one to watch in the coming years, with big opportunities for farmers and contractors to diversify and get a piece of the action. But it is also a market which presents particular challenges and in which fencing plays a pivotal role. Using the best-made and most suitable product that is available and having it correctly erected will be the key to the success or otherwise of a deer farming business. With the widest possible experience of fencing in many different sectors, Tornado is best placed to advise contractors on product suitability and installation.