Federated Farmers has agreed to a recommendation from Dunedin-based Coroner Alexandra Cunninghame that we send out information to members – particularly our lifestyle block members – about the dangers posed by domestic deer during the rutting season.
The recommendation was included in the Coroner’s recently released findings into the sad death on 15 April 2020 of Benjamin McLean. The Fire and Emergency NZ staff member, who with his partner ran a 10-acre farmlet at Makarewa with deer, pigs, sheep, alpacas, goats and chickens, died from multiple injuries and blood loss after being gored by a stag.
Two red stags were kept at the farm. The bigger of the two was named Robert, and had been bottle reared by Mr McLean and his partner.
During the 2020 rut/Roar, Mr McLean separated the two stags because they had been fighting. Robert was in a locked, 2-metre high fenced paddock with three hinds.
Mr McLean’s partner refused to go into the paddock to feed Robert because she was scared of him and told the hearing she wanted to sell him. But Mr McLean had assured her he would be safe because the stag knew him, and he always carried a stock stick when entering Robert’s paddock.
It appears Mr McLean entered Robert’s paddock on 15 April to check on the water level in his trough. He was found when he failed to return to the house to leave for his shift at FENZ.
Mr McLean was not a professional farmer and the Coroner found that while it was clear he was careful around deer, especially during the Roar, there was no evidence he was aware of WorkSafe NZ’s guidelines for safe deer handling, nor similar material from the NZ Deer Farmers Association and Deer Industry NZ.
WorkSafe’s guidelines include:
“…From late January onwards, the nature (temperament) of stags tends to change with a move toward increased aggressiveness. By the beginning of March (beginning of the rut) they can be very dangerous and unpredictable. As such, antlers should be removed early, before they are “hard Antler’ … to ensure the safety and welfare of the deer and their handlers….
“To ensure stags are handled as safely as possible, a rigorous culling policy for poor temperament, aggression, flightiness or unpredictability should be practised….
“When entering a paddock with a rutting stag inside, use a vehicle that will provide protection from an attack, eg a cabbed tractor. Two people should be on hand.
“Hand-reared deer can be the most dangerous, and should not be kept in hard antler. Never work with stags on your own, or enter a paddock with stags on foot during the rut.”
The DINZ website notes: “Tame stags can become very dangerous. All stags can be dangerous during the rut, but tame animals may be even more dangerous due to a very low flight distance created, for example, by having become accustomed to human contact whilst being hand fed.”
On the day he was killed, Mr McLean was not carrying his stock stick.
As per the Coroner’s finding, Feds will wait until the 2022/23 summer period, ahead of rutting season, to promote pertinent deer safety guidelines, and particularly to lifestyle block members that tame/hand-reared deer can be particularly dangerous.