Omicron disrupts venison processing

Mar 18, 2022

Venison processors and deer farmers are busy juggling the uncharted territory of the Omicron outbreak. All processors report staff absences due to illness or isolation with household members, which has reduced capacity and slowed processing of deer.

RAT tests are being widely used to help keep staff safe

Pre-outbreak planning, with companies working closely with local health authorities, will have minimised some of the potential impact.

Nevertheless, venison production for First Light Foods was impacted when Venison Packers Feilding plant had to close completely last weekend for a “relatively short, sharp” period, reports Matt Gibson, First Light general manager venison.

He says Venison Packers will be back in operation soon, but it is likely capacity will be reduced by about a third. In the meantime, the company is advising its farmer suppliers and agents to keep in close communication so everyone has as much information as possible.

Peter Robinson: Silver Fern Farms is focused on moving animals off farm and prioritising animal welfare

Protocols already in place across the industry – screens, physical distancing, temperature testing and masks – have been boosted by the widespread use of Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) and consolidation of shifts to make sure staff are safe and that processing can continue as efficiently as possible. Farmers have been advised to book space well in advance, focus on good animal welfare especially during transport, and be prepared to hold stock on farm for longer.

Moving animals off farm is the focus for Silver Fern Farms, where suppliers across all species are experiencing delays. Group sales manager Peter Robinson says the company’s: “priority will be addressing any areas of potential animal welfare risk and supporting our fully shared and valued suppliers.”

“We are operating as best we can and reviewing weekly,” says John Sadler of Mountain River Venison.

At Alliance: “There will be disruption to numbers processed over the next week or so but at this stage, the impact is not too significant,” notes sales manager Terry O’Connell.

Processing is continuing at good levels at Duncan NZ, even though throughput has eased. Andy Duncan’s management team “is doing an excellent job of balancing employee and public safety, with continued production, filling customers’ orders and building on the new market development work,” he says.

Farming under current pressures can be tough and farmers are encouraged to seek support from the Rural Support Trusts if it all seems a bit much.

The Trusts have local, rural people who have the networks and training to help farmers with all kinds of situations. Many of them are farmers or former farmers, so they understand the issues farmers face.

Phone Rural Support 0800 787 254 to contact the local support team.

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