November 23, 2008

Animal behaviour and welfare: Deer Part 2


Capture: Stress & aggression: Handling: Calming: Welfare issues

By Dr Clive Dalton

  • Being captured is very stressful for feral deer, and individuals vary greatly in the time they take to settle. Capture methods used are:
  • Finding calves at birth and hand rearing them.
  • Building a trap in their territory and attracting them in with feed.
  • Shooting with tranquiliser darts.
  • Bulldogging (leaping on them) from a helicopter.
  • Netting from a helicopter.
  • Mustering with helicopters or dogs.
  • Captured deer may need to be treated with appropriate drugs to counteract stress.
  • Release after capture can be very stressful too.
  • Deer need to be released into a large area to allow them plenty of space, with trees for cover and left undisturbed for as long as possible.
  • After capture their first reaction is usually to pace the fences and then go into cover and sulk.
  • Water should be available and if possible a wallow provided.
  • Don't release newly-captured deer into groups of strangers as they'll be upset and this will stress them even more.
  • Red deer in panic tend to pace the fence and try to leap it from an oblique angle. Fallow run along the fence and tend to run at it head on and burst through the mesh.
Stress and aggression in deer

Deer farmers have been slow to provide shade and are criticised for this as causing stress.

What is stress?
  • Stress is the biggest cause of death in deer.
  • It is related to a number of things:
  • Season.
  • The way they are handled.
  • The environment.
  • Climatic conditions.
  • Physical abuse.
  • Stress is very contagious among deer and will spread rapidly through stock in yards.
General signs of aggression in deer
  • Panting.
  • Dribbling.
  • Urinating.
  • Bleating, roaring or barking.
  • Climbing on top of each other.
  • Flighty running around the pen.
  • Shaking and sweating.
  • Ears flopped down.
  • Burrowing under other deer in yard.
  • Hair loss.
  • Tongue hanging out.
  • Grinding their teeth.
  • Hair raised especially on the rump.
  • Glands in front of the eyes open.
  • Stags may lower their heads to charge.
  • Raise their heads in dominant stance.
  • Back into the corner of a pen.
  • Ears may be pricked up and pinned back.
  • Hinds will rear up on back legs.
  • Lash out with front feet.
  • Kicking with hind legs.
  • Biting/chewing the yards or walls.
  • Biting other deer.
  • Biting handlers.
Damage to pasture caused by stress
A classical sign of stress and response to fear seen in the paddock is 'fence walking', or running up on to high ground for security and get a better view of the threat. Once the sole of the pasture is broken up by the deer's sharp feet, rain runs down the shallow path which then erodes more with more rain. In no time, there is a major erosion problem which is difficult to fix without removing the animals.

An example of fence walking damage. This paddock was like this for years and was only solved when the farm went out of deer.

This deer paddock was near the road and every time the deer panicked they ran
to the top of the hill. The area had to be fenced off and planted in trees to stop more erosion.

Physical factors causing stress in deer
  • Climate.
  • Overcrowding in yards or truck.
  • Overheating in yards or trucks.
  • Condition of the yards or trucks.
  • Mud or dust in the yards.
  • Changing their routine.
  • Rough handling when mustering and yarding.
  • Strangers in the yards.
  • Driven in by strangers.
  • Dogs.
  • Motorbikes or noisy vehicles.
  • Incompetent handlers.
Human factors causing stress in deer
  • Rushing around when handling them.
  • Sudden movements.
  • Lack of confidence in the operator - the deer can sense this.
  • Handling them in a different way.
  • Aggression toward handlers.
  • The way you approach deer.
  • The way you approach deer in pens.
  • Sticks or prodders.
  • Lack of patience.
Effects of season and age on aggression in deer
  • Aggression in deer changes with the season.
  • Red stags in the roar from mid Feb to May, with a similar season for fallow deer.Aggression increases with age.
  • Up to 2 years old can be handled safely but with care but over 2 years - use extreme caution.
  • Hinds fawn November - December and may show more aggression to fawning.
How to handle aggressive deer
  • Very carefully - with patience.
  • Get some experienced help.
  • Be assertive without being loud.
  • Use aids such as a proper shield.
  • Use door from the yards if necessary.
  • Draft out aggressive deer into another pen.
  • Talk to deer in calm soothing manner.
  • Raise your arms full length in the air.
  • Use smooth flowing actions.
  • Walk away if necessary - this will calm you too.
  • Use other deer as a protective shield.
  • Shift deer in a different way through the yards.
  • Determine when enough is enough.
  • Respect farmer's advice (ask questions).
  • Never turn your back on an aggressive deer.
  • ALWAYS have an escape route.
Calming stressed deer
  • Talk to them in calm soothing tones when working with them.
  • Walk in calm steady movements and display total confidence.
  • Let deer know where you are, especially before opening doors.
  • Separate out agitated deer into smaller mobs.
  • Where possible allow standing time in yards for them to settle.
  • Have a radio playing to lessen sudden noises.
  • Give them more space in the yards - but this may give them more room to panic.

Animal welfare issues with farmed deer

  • Handling to avoid stress.
  • Lack of shade and shelter leading to heat stress.
  • Lack of cover in calving/fawning paddock.
  • Mortality of young calves and fawns.
  • Dystocia with crossbreeding.
  • Fence walking caused by stress.
  • Harvesting velvet without due regard to the Code of Welfare.
  • Transport - stress and injury caused by long journeys.
  • Slaughter - meat bruising, hide damage and low pH.
  • Offering farmed deer for tourists to hunt.
  • Live deer recovery from the wild to boost farming operations.
  • Animal health and environmental issues.

Tb in deer.
  • The spread of Tb into Tb-free deer areas.
  • Escape of deer into deer-free areas with resulting environmental damage.

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