All except the roar

Pampered pooches in America and pizzle hot pots in China are helping support venison prices to farmers.

While the top priority for the deer industry is building restaurant demand for farm-raised venison, it also caters for customers eager to source every part of the animal except, perhaps, the roar of the stag.

Dan Coup, CEO Deer Industry New Zealand.“In the United States, venison and other game meats are now vital ingredients in gourmet pet foods. The inclusion of 10 percent of venison in a chicken-based formula can give it serious cachet, dramatically increasing the price consumers are willing to pay for the product,” says Deer Industry NZ (DINZ) chief executive officer Dan Coup.

“As a result, prices for deer offals and mechanically-deboned venison have doubled twice in the last three years and are now worth around $40 a head. A further $30 comes from deer skins, dried deer blood and ‘Asian edibles’ – deer sinews, pizzles and tails.”

Last year the export value of sinews more than doubled to $3.96 million compared with $1.77 million in 2013. Tails lifted to $11.3 million from $8.5 million. Pizzles firmed to $6.8 million, up from $4.8 million.

Deer skins are the only co-product where prices have weakened slightly in the last year … probably due to the strengthening of the Kiwi against the Euro.

“Co-products are a really important part of delivering value to farmers. They make up about 15 per cent of the value of a deer versus about 14 per cent of the value of a lamb,” says Coup.

“Farmers often ask me why they don’t get paid for co-products, but they do. Recoveries from co-products offset about 70 per cent of the cost of processing a deer carcase. Maximising their value is a priority for venison processors,” he says.

Pizzles are cut carefully so as to leave a piece of the pelvic bone attached. This tells buyers the pizzle has come from a deer, not a dog or seal, an important assurance for customers. Tails are also cut so that glands in the base of the tail remain intact.

Tails need labour-intensive work to make them ready for sale, plucking out the hairs, cooking, drying and stretching the skin over the cut end. While some processors do this in New Zealand, most are processed in Hong Kong.

Indeed the main outlets for Asian edibles like pizzles, tails and sinews are Hong Kong-based buyers who on-sell to distributors throughout mainland China. Pizzles are popular in northeast China where they are used in a traditional hot pot.

“New Zealand now has direct access to mainland China for products from all major deer processing plants, so there is a potential for Asian edibles to go more directly to the consumer.  This makes everything transparent and potentially reduces the number of margins being taken between the producer and end user.

“But Hong Kong is likely to remain an important outlet for the foreseeable future. Sure, some exporters are reporting enquiry from potential new customers in China, but we are talking about very traditional products going into a market where personal relationships and loyalties between buyer and seller are highly valued,” Coup explains.

Dried deer blood can be used as a food ingredient and is sold in capsules by some traditional Asian medicine practitioners. Demand for it has been sporadic over the years, but in 2014 exports jumped to $588,000 from only $4,214 the year before.

“It remains to be seen whether this demand can be sustained. The sale of blood has dual benefit, it increases returns from deer and also removes it from plant effluent, where it takes time to breakdown.”

Coup says there is some call from farmers to get a separate itemised price for each co-product, but this adds considerable cost to processing. This cannot be justified unless farmers have a way of producing animals with attributes like larger tails or pizzles.

Supplied by Deer Industry New Zealand. 

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