Welcome to Mt Hutt Station! We visited Bruce and Becky Hood who run the farm, to learn more about the farm's background, their operations, and lifestyle.
Mt Hutt Station is located in Canterbury, where the plains rise up to the Southern Alps. It is a large scale deer farm covering 2,940 ha total, ranging from flat land to the steep faces of Mt Hutt. The deer can scale Mt Hutt - going right up the top to graze - or they can graze on lush green pastures on the flats. This is a natural environment for deer to thrive in - and they’re arguably the most free range animal out there!
Mt Hutt Station has had a long history, being farmed from as early as 1857. In around 1900 it was the largest dairy farm in the South Island, milking over 500 cows and carrying 14,000 sheep, Berkshire and Tamworth pigs, draught horses and hacks.
While it has been a traditional beef, sheep and wool producer, today it is a leading force in the New Zealand deer industry. The property has had a long association with deer - it was in 1898 that deer were introduced to the Rakaia river flats from Stoke Park, England. These deer established within the area and became known as the Rakaia Red.
In 1978 brothers Doug and Keith Hood purchased the property, then running 7,000 sheep and 500 cattle. Deer farming started with the purchase of 36 weaner hinds and from deer captured in the following period. The Hood brothers are recognised as some of the pioneers of the New Zealand deer industry.
The farm has been involved with and has participated in a lot of deer research, including feed trials, drug trials, weight gain trials and much more. Over the decades the original Rakaia Red herd has evolved and developed through internal selection and also the introduction of superior European and other English genetics. The Mt Hutt deer herd is now known for its velvet production, good body weights and calm temperament.
Bruce Hood, son to Keith Hood, grew up with the deer industry. Each day after school, he would help out with tasks like weighing and feeding. Over the years he, of course, got more and more confident and took on more responsibilities around the farm.
Today, Mt Hutt Station is still family owned and operated; Bruce’s parent’s Keith and Denise remain involved working on the farm and Bruce and Becky’s four children are helping out in different ways, just like Bruce did when he was their age.
The current herd consists of 2,500 breeding hinds and 2,000 velveting stags, and their replacements.
Area Deer Fenced 1,600 ha (740 ha paddocks, 860 ha over-sown hill blocks)
Altitude 460 m - 1,900 m (most fenced area is below 800 m)
Rainfall 750 mm - 1,500 mm (on productive areas)
Soils Alluvial silt loams - a majority of the paddock area
Staff 4 plus casual (2 livestock, 2 tractors and maintenance)
Whilst there is a large focus on velvet production, with 2,000 stags two years and older, Mt Hutt Station tries to keep a balanced focus on both venison and velvet production. Given their scale, they are able to achieve this by breeding and selecting a lot of sires from their own herd. Despite the high quality of their animals, they still buy in the occasional new sire from other stud breeders to cross with their existing animals to continue improving their own genetics. In the hind herd they aim to select suitable and efficient hinds for their property which also display suitable venison characteristics and carry desired velvet genetics.
Mt Hutt Station runs a pasture based farm to keep costs low and this means deer have access to pasture throughout their lives. In the winter it can be quite cold with little grass growth for up to 4 months. During this time deer need to be fed supplementary feeds such as silage (grass conserved from the spring/summer) or fodder crops grown on the farm such as swedes, kale and fodder beet. Barley sourced from local grain farmers may also be fed sparingly to young stock to help get them through winter. Snowfalls of around one foot aren’t uncommon at Mt Hutt but usually it clears very quickly and deer tolerate the conditions well. Snow is a normal occurrence in their natural environment and it is common to see deer playing while other species head for shelter!
Bruce says, although sometimes challenging, working in the outdoors is the best part of the job. Deer are enjoyable to work with and, although some can be characters and others more challenging, you get to know and appreciate them all individually.
Bruce and Becky enjoy eating the venison that comes with running a deer farm and during summer their favourite way to cook is on the BBQ with salad and spuds. They say, “cooking venison steaks on the BBQ takes about 5 minutes and the kids love it!” In winter, that can change to a casserole or crockpot. In regards to preferred cuts; back steaks, and steaks in general, are a favourite and they use their local butcher, Dry Creek Meats, to produce the cuts.
When catering to large groups of people, such as the kid's school events, Bruce and Becky are known to bring venison sausages or venison burger patties. A favourite flavour is honey and maple, with pork or mutton included for some added fat.
As a farm with such a long history and reputation for producing high quality venison, we at Mountain River are proud that Bruce and Becky have chosen us as their preferred venison partner. In the early days, Keith was involved with setting up Mountain River Processors and so there’s a special bond there. Also, Keith has a close friendship with John Fogarty, who was Deer Supply Manager before Rob came along.
The Hood family have a strong relationship with Mountain River and, because of the history together, a close relationship with a lot of the people involved.
Bruce and Becky are well-versed in the operations of a large scale deer farm and we look forward to catching up again soon as we head into the long Kiwi summer - enjoying those venison BBQs along the way!