ON tough moorland edge pastures above 1,000 ft (310m), it would be easy to think that raising productivity is only for the lowlands. But based on results at Vale House Farm in the North Pennines, that would be mistaken.

On 93 hectares (230ac) at 1,300ft near Richmond, farm manager Luke Padley runs a commercial red deer herd of 200 hinds and 11 stags. Some progeny with elite genetics are sold for breeding (valehousefarm.com) while the majority of calves at about 18 months of age go via Dovecote Park into the premium retail market with Waitrose.

Three years ago, the average mature liveweight of hinds in was 91kg. Today, Luke reports that improvements made to grazing productivity and management have seen this increase by 23% to 113kg.

In addition to pasture improvement, this came about by dealing with its natural shortfall of essential trace elements. Twice a year ahead of the rutting and calving seasons, adult deer are given a 180-day duration Tracesure bolus, which releases a steady 'trickle charge' of selenium and iodine, cobalt and copper.Based on success in the adults, deer calves are also supplemented at weaning in late summer, then just before turnout from winter housing in the spring.

In all four seasons, according to vet Dr Elizabeth Berry from Animax, animal performance can be restricted by pasture trace element deficiencies. "This applies whether grass is grazed fresh or conserved as hay or silage," she explains.

"Functions affected by deficiencies include immunity, energy metabolism, digestive enzymes and breeding hormones. Sub-optimal function in any one of these is likely to have adverse effects on animal productivity and financial performance.

"In general, increased liveweight in hinds may well bring a number of associated productivity improvements. These could include hind fertility and milk supply, higher calf survival and birthweights, increased antler growth on males and a noticable bloom on coat condition.

"Trace element supplementation to help deer make maximum use of pasture is good business as well as affordable and easy."

At Vale House Farm, Luke Padley reports that bolus administration is straightforward and safe for people and deer alike. The slow-release 'leaching bolus' mechanism, developed and patented by Animax, is not available from other sources.Farmed venison sales via supermarkets increased by 11 per cent year-on-year to £14.4 million in 2019 .

But before too many ambitious expansion plans are hatched, Tom Rayner at Animax urges caution.

"Bear in mind how coronavirus more or less halted sales into catering and, more generally, difficulties in the beef market when supplies available to buyers from UK production and imports are ahead of demand," he says. "This depresses ex-farm beef prices such that all but the most efficient farmers are losing money.

Of course, catering sales will recover in time and venison's appeal to discerning diners is its good name as an ultra-healthy meat with fabulous eating quality. But we shouldn't be complacent and expect this to remain so automatically or forever."