Avoiding problems around fawning
In the current climate of low venison returns it’s tempting to let hinds become third class citizens on your farm. However, letting herd reproductive efficiency slip will only further erode profitability in a venison enterprise and make it more difficult to capitalise on better returns when things do come right.
Hinds that don’t rear a fawn are the biggest cost in your herd. Hopefully you’ve identified dry/dry hinds at scanning and they are gone. But wet/dry hinds are generally the big area of loss, and there are actions you can take to minimise the number of these.
Well-conditioned, well fed hinds that are fawned at an appropriate stocking rate (and if possible in paddocks that have good natural features for fawning) can have very good in-paddock survival rates. Top performing herds can have fawn mortality rates as low as 5%.
One large central North Island property, by paying attention to the factors above, lifted fawn survival from 80% to 91% in a 5 year period.
Most fawns that ‘go missing’ do so because they die at or around birth. Birthing problems, starvation/exposure, mismothering and misadventure, are all inter-related.
On commercial farms it is unusual to see dead fawns. Hinds may eat them or they are quickly preyed upon by hawks, pigs or cats.
When it comes to giving birth and bonding with their fawn, a hind’s worst enemy is another hind. Difficult births are often a result of disturbance during the birthing process. Once out, the first 30 minutes of the fawn’s life are very important – fawns will die if bonding is not successful in this period and hinds may not return to fawns that they have been chased away from. Older, larger and aggressive hinds have been observed to chase other hinds off birth sites.
A hind in the wild will separate herself from the herd to give birth and may spend considerable time apart with her fawn. Where they are not able to do this, they will hide their fawns. Hinds will push fawns through fences into long grass if there is no other cover; often leading to a fawn trapped the wrong side of a fence.
Hinds may be seen fence pacing as they search for seclusion before fawning, or because they have lost a fawn on the other side.
An ideal fawning environment has ample cover with plenty of spots for hinds to separate away from others. Hinds fawned in low density tussock country typically wean 3-4% better than their low country counterparts.
While we don’t have too much of this type of country in the Central and southern North Island, we can help our hinds out by:
- Minimising effect of dominant of hinds by giving plenty of space
- Appropriate stocking rate will depend on paddock type. 6 hinds per ha may be appropriate in small, highly subdivided paddocks, in more broken hill country up to 9/ha may be OK
- Consider providing ‘artificial’ cover in small paddocks e.g. felled trees, or mow the edges of the paddock and leave long grass in the middle so that hinds hide their fawns away from fences.
- Habituate hinds to stresses well before fawning, e.g. activity happening next door
- Break up age classes – fawn young hinds and older hinds separately.
The other ‘drag’ on efficiency in a venison herd is small and late-born fawns. While conception date has the biggest influence, poor hind condition and underfeeding in spring can make this problem worse.
- Undernutrition in hinds slows foetal growth
- Hinds will only give birth once the fawn is big enough – the delay can be as much as 2 weeks
- If hinds fawn in BCS 4 gestation length won’t be prolonged
- Feeding in the last trimester is most important
Hind body condition at fawning – bigger is better!
- Being in a high body condition score does not predispose a hind to fawning problems – most fawning problems are caused by disturbance and stress.
- BCS 4 to 4.5 animals maintain high milk production for 4-6 weeks longer than thinner hinds in dry summers.
While it may not be cost effective to pay for feed to lift thin hinds now; third trimester feeding is most important, so simply separating light hinds and reducing their level of competition will help.