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Weaner deer

Weaning is a stressful time for young deer and can result in compromised immune systems, disease and lowered growth rates.

Important points

Try to have stressful procedures such as drenching, tagging and vaccinating done before weaning day. This has the added advantage of familiarising the weaners with the yards.

Plan weaning around good weather in order to minimise stress.

Familiarise weaners with any supplement or crop before weaning. Return the weaners to familiar paddocks after weaning.

Invest in accurate scales. Put weaners in mobs of similar weight.


The industry average growth rate is around 150 grams per day but, with the right choice of feed, growth rates of 200-300 g/d can be achieved. Weaners perform best on pasture with a high proportion of chicory/plantain and clover. Weigh weaners regularly and set target liveweights.

All deer farmers should be familiar with the Deer New Zealand Deer Hub website ( This has feeding tables and other useful information.


Worms – Gastrointestinal and lungworms are a major cause of disease in young deer. Drench resistance is widespread. Weaners are best given an oral triple drench. Avoid pour-on and single-active drenches. Note: Be careful with dose rates when drenching weaners. Ensure that weaners are accurately weighed and group them according to bodyweight to avoid overdosing.

Yersiniosis – The Yersinia bacterium is common in the environment and is spread by birds and animals. It can cause serious outbreaks in weaners with scouring, dehydration and death. Outbreaks are usually associated with stressors such as bad weather, weaning, worms and feed restrictions. Weaners should be vaccinated at 12 weeks of age and given a booster 3-4 weeks later. Some farms may need to give the first shot before 12 weeks of age and in this case a third shot may improve immunity.

Leptospirosis – Leptospirosis is also common on deer farms and some strains can cause disease and death in weaners. Signs range from reduced growth rate through to redwater, jaundice and death. There are vaccines available that can be given from 12 weeks of age.

Johnes disease sporadically affects all ages of deer, however outbreaks involving much younger animals, eight to 20 months old, have been on the rise over recent years. Scouring and weight loss, progressing to death occurs fairly rapidly. Up to 10% of a mob may be affected and, as there is no treatment available and the disease is fatal, affected animals should be culled a soon as possible to minimise shedding of the bacteria.

Malignant Catarrhal Fever (MCF) causes a bloody scour and outbreaks can be precipitated by severe forms of stress, such as excessive yarding or mustering.  MCF is caused by a virus and is always fatal. There is no treatment or vaccine available.

Necrobacillosis (necrotic footrot) is caused by a bacterium that is a normal inhabitant of the gut. Wounds to the lower limbs are a point of entry leading to infections in the feet, joints and tendons and potentially severe lameness. Infections can spread to the bloodstream, liver and lungs at which stage treatment is generally futile and death is inevitable. 

Clostridial Disease – Especially blackleg and malignant oedema. This causes sudden death and can easily be vaccinated against.

For help and advice on managing your deer at any stage contact your veterinarian or your local clinic.

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