Alternative Livestock

Deer Farming ResearchRed deer

This section of the SRUC website is a gateway to some of the research that has been carried out in Scotland and throughout the world that is relevant to Deer Farming. It was been compiled by SRUC and funded by the Knowledge Transfer Exchange (KTE) University Innovation Fund (UIF).

This section also includes an outline of the expertise relevant to Deer Farming which is available within SRUC and some case studies of  successful Deer farms and Deer processing facilities operating in Scotland.”

Download deer farming research papers:

Deer farming case studies:

Useful books and Information


SRUC Expertise

Deer farming: On the Farm Deer farming research

Estate and uplands management including expertise in grazing, animal behaviour and biodiversity

The Hill and Mountain research centre operates to seek economically, environmentally and socially sustainable land management systems with an emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They have expertise in grazing, animal behaviour and biodiversity from hill and mountain animals that can be applied to wild deer, farm and park deer.

Animal Behaviour and Welfare

The Animal Behaviour and Welfare team conducts research with the aim of providing welfare solutions that are based on the animals’ experience, relevant to public concerns, cost-effective, practical and sustainable. Main research themes are developing welfare solutions (e.g. housing, management, genetic, understanding behavioural development) and the development of scientifically valid, practical and reliable methods of welfare assessment.


Deer farming: Environment and SustainabilityDeer farming research

Carbon management, greenhouse gas accounting and agri-environmental modelling

SRUC have expertise in carbon management, GHG accounting and agri-environmental modelling that can be applied to deer farming. SRUC have developed a model that will calculate the emissions intensity (EI - kgCO2e per kg of output) for the main Scottish agricultural commodities which can be applied to deer and venison. 

The Agre-Calc carbon footprint software also shows the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions produced from routine farm activities, highlighting areas where changes can be made that, when implemented, will reduce emissions.

The SRUC Carbon Management Centre supports research, learning and consultancy activities that contribute to a reduction of carbon emissions from agriculture and food production. Activities within the Centre are designed to provide innovative new solutions and advice on improving efficiency and reducing emissions from farming systems.


Deer farming: EconomicsDeer farming research

Supply chain mapping, financial and economic modelling.

Conducting economic impact evaluations on new farms or farms diversifying into deer production. SRUC have expertise in supply chain mapping, financial and economic modelling

Evaluating impacts of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP

SRUC has a number of applied agricultural economist delivering research, consultancy and education services. Expertise includes evaluating impacts of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in both Scotland and England and conducting economic impact evaluations and economic impact studies.


Deer farming: Veterinary ScienceDeer farming research

Expertise in genetics, animal behaviour, nutrition and epidemiology.

SRUC Veterinary Services comprises a network of eight disease surveillance centres across Scotland, from Thurso to St Boswells. These provide diagnostic testing and specialist interpretation of clinical samples such as blood and faeces ,and post-mortem examination of deer or foetuses. Clients may include the deer farming industry, stalkers and gamekeepers, the police (e.g. in cases of suspected poaching), and zoo parks or non-commercial deer owners.

In addition to providing diagnostic services to assist animal managers and private veterinary surgeons, these centres of expertise are heavily involved in collating, reporting and disseminating information on diseases found in Scotland e.g. Johne’s disease in deer. They also perform screening for exotic diseases in Scotland’s wildlife and livestock industry: for example, following the concerning discovery of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Norway and Finland, every deer carcase over nine months of age submitted for any reason is sampled for routine CWD screening. This is funded by the Scottish Government as part of its Public Good Veterinary Advisory Service.


Deer farming: Breeding and Meat QualityDeer farming research

Genomic selection

The Animal Breeding and Genetics team at SRUC have developed and implemeted genomic selection across a number of species. Implementation of single-step genomic selection for UK dairy goats is now being exploited internationally. Genomic selection for a wider suite of hard-to-measure traits (related to fertility, feed efficiency, disease resistance) is now underway in two projects. Data procedures developed have been used in a further project using genomic technologies to reduce mastitis in meat sheep, involving on-farm phenotyping measures for disease traits to relate to genomic data. This has delivered the first genomic breeding values to UK sheep breeders. The group has similar expertise in cattle.

Expertise in utilising sequence data and genomics to improve novel carcass traits in beef cattle has led to genomic breeding values for beef and created a company to exploit the use of these breeding values. Databases and data handling processes are in place to assess and store large amounts of genomic data. As part of SRUC, Edinburgh Genetic Evaluation Services (EGENES) produces national genetic evaluations for all dairy cattle and sheep and for the UKs biggest beef breeds. This process uses performance, pedigree and now genotype data recorded by farmers, breeders and other industry players.

There is potential for similar genomic selection in deer. A SNP chip is available which can be used to genotype deer. To develop the “key” relating genomic data to observed traits of interest for UK deer would require some development work, collecting several thousand measurements of each trait of interest on a “training” population of deer, representative of the UK herd, which are also genotyped using DNA samples. The genotypes and phenotypes can then be matched to allow assessment of genetic potential of other selection candidates based on their genotype alone. SRUC has the expertise and processes in place to undertake this research.

CT scanning

SRUC owns a mobile CT scanner which can be used to assess a number of valuable carcass traits by scanning either live animals, carcasses or meat samples. Information collected by the CT process can be used to accurately estimate weights and distribution of fat, muscle and bone in the body, or in specific regions. Other economically important traits that can be measured include muscle dimensions, spine region lengths and number of vertebrae in different carcass regions. CT data can also predict levels of intramuscular (marbling) fat in key meat cuts within the carcass, enabling a non-destructive prediction of meat quality. SRUC has the equipment, software and expertise to analyse similar traits across different species.

Live deer have been successfully CT scanned in New Zealand in the last 2 decades, to provide carcass composition data to breeding programmes. However, CT scanning of carcasses or vacuum-packaged joints post-slaughter could also provide important information on amounts of lean and fat and their distribution across the carcass, as well as the additional traits mentioned above. These data could feed back to breeding programmes, or help to understand differences between genotypes or management regimes in carcass quality. The mobile nature of the scanner allows it to travel to farms or meat plants, rather than transporting the samples, reducing the risk of stress for live animals or spoilage for meat, which can return to the food chain after scanning.

Meat quality analysis

SRUC has considerable expertise in the assessment and analysis of meat quality across different species. Several previous research projects have involved measurement of objective and subjective measures of meat quality traits, and investigation of the relationships between these measurements and predictor traits. For example, imaging technologies such as CT scanning, video image analysis, near infra-red spectroscopy and hyperspectral imaging have been tested for their ability to predict traits like mechanical tenderness, intramuscular fat, pH, and eating quality (tenderness, juiciness, flavour, as assessed by trained taste panels). SRUC now owns a mobile meat quality lab, which enables accurate measurement of these traits at sites throughout the UK. This offers the potential for meat quality assessment by consumers or trained taste panels at different events, retail outlets or industry sites. Data on meat quality could then be fed back to producers or companies to assist with breeding stock selection, management decisions, research or marketing. The potential exists for this facility to be used, alongside SRUC expertise, to develop research around venison meat quality.

Alistair Trail

Alistair Trail

Food & Drink Consultant

Address: Craibstone Estate, Bucksburn, Aberdeen, AB21 9YA

Telephone: 01224711051

E-mail: Alistair.Trail@sac.co.uk