Adding extra value to traditional agricultural products has taken an unexpected twist in New Zealand, where the nation’s biggest corporate farming business has started milking deer.
Deer milk has a particularly silky mouthfeel and a fat content up to five times higher than bovine milk, making it attractive to use in premium dessert products or as an enhancing ingredient in other foods, or cosmetics.
It also boasts the highest protein and casein protein content of any animal milk harvested for human nutrition.
State-owned Landcorp Farming is already NZ’s biggest conventional dairy farmer, with a 55,000 strong herd of mostly Holstein cows, and is involved in sheep milk production.
Pamu’s production portfolio also includes beef, lamb, 2.5 million tonnes of wool (about 16,600 bales a year), timber, venison, and deer velvet.
Landcorp, which trades under the Pamu brand, owns or manages 122 farms spread over 376,000 hectares, some of which are leased to other farmers.
NZ’s domesticated deer herd totals about 1 million head, making it the world’s biggest producer of farmed venison.
Creme brulee made from deer milk is gobsmackingly delicious
“Venison is healthy and popular meat, but we’re looking to further enhance the value we can extract from our deer numbers,” said Pamu’s general manager of innovation and technology, Rob Ford.
“One of the challenges for our agricultural business is to move away from volume to value to avoid being caught by price volatility in mainstream commodities areas.”
Despite their naturally timid and flighty nature, and the practical challenges associated with milking a deer’s uneven shaped udder, milk from one of Pamu’s Southland herds is making a splash in high end restaurants in Auckland.
After three years of milking technique trials and food quality research, including milk powder production runs at Massey University, Pamu launched its deer milk to the food service industry in a world-first last month.
Deer milk cheese, yoghurt and rich dessert lines such as panna cotta and creme brulee have been applauded by chefs and other foodies.
“Creme brulee made from deer milk is gobsmackingly delicious and astonishingly smooth and light,” said prominent restaurateur, Geoff Scott, who owns Auckland’s Vinnies Restaurant.
Pamu’s food innovation efforts were also recognised at the recent NZ national Fieldays, where the company and its deer milking partners, the McIntyre family at Gore, won a Grassroots Innovation Award.
The McIntyres perfected the art of mechanically milking a herd of 70 female hind deer, using cups and equipment developed for sheep dairies.
Does have been hand-raised and trained to accept the dairy and its surrounds from an early age.
Pamu’s Mr Ford believed deer milk powder for use in nutritional formula products and as a high end food ingredient could be a particularly good commercial prospect.
Deer milk is not just high in fat and protein, but also a rich source of nutritional minerals, and much higher in calcium, phosphorus, and zinc content than milk from cows, sheep, and goats.
We believe we are on the cusp of something very exciting
Pamu chief executive officer, Steve Carden, said the corporate farmer saw deer milk as the sort of innovation the agriculture sector needed to invest in to remain competitive.
“As an industry, agriculture needs to be changing and evolving what we produce in response to consumer demand,” he said.
He said its high fat content and protein levels made Pamu’s deer milk ideal for the food service sector and skin care product makers, as well as other uses being explored by the company.
“We believe we are on the cusp of something very exciting,” he said.
“While still early days for the product, recognition received at Fieldays is an awesome acknowledgement for the team at Pamu, and our partners, the McIntyre family, with support from Agresearch, Agmardt, Asure Quality and the Food Hub.
Adding food chain value
“Pamu is looking at how we can enhance shareholder value, by not just being a price taker at the farm gate, but adding value right along the food chain.
“Whether we’re looking at how to use the unique properties of deer milk, or partnering with Spring Sheep Milk Company to offer a unique product range, or supplying quality wool to NZ Merino, Pamu is always seeking ways to drive value and innovation in our business.”
In the Maori language Pamu literally means “‘to farm”, but also reflects the Maori concept of guardianship of the environment.
Landcorp Farming is responsible for managing considerable areas of land owned by Maori communities as well as other national estate areas, and land unsuitable for agriculture but available to develop for other uses.
The company, which pays dividends to the NZ Government, expects to deliver earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of nearly $48 million for 2017-18.
- Andrew Marshall travelled to New Zealand as a guest of NZ Trade and Enterprise.