Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Understanding barriers to adoption of improved land use practices by deer farmers

Tracy Payne and Denise Bewsell

AgResearch Ltd, East Street, Private Bag 3123, Hamilton, New Zealand.


When designing land use practices to reduce environmental effects, researchers should be concerned whether such practices are easily adopted. Researchers in the AgResearch deer programme in New Zealand are changing their science by using social research to understand barriers to adoption of improved land use practices. This helps assure funding bodies that land use practices developed and promoted through their programmes have a good chance of being adopted. We used a qualitative approach to investigate barriers to the adoption of specific land use practices amongst deer farmers in two regions within New Zealand. Deer farmers were asked for their experiences with the following practices; wallowing management, waterway fencing and integrated livestock farming. Our findings indicate that the adoption of improved land use practices by deer farmers is influenced by their specific farm context. Wallowing caused a diverse range of problems. Yet many farmers had implemented solutions to either halt or decrease the damage depending on their specific problem and resources available to them. Waterway fencing was a sensitive topic with many questioning the definition of a waterway. Those farmers who did fence off waterways did so for practical reasons. We identify that most farmers integrated sheep and/or cattle with their deer for pasture management and/or weed control. While those that did not, had specific reasons not to, including disease constraints and wanting to keep their farm operation simple.

Our findings suggest that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to improved land use practices. Instead research and extension programs need to recognise that the “best” solution will depend on the farm context. Researchers are now seeking more details in order to provide practical and adoptable solutions for farmers.

Three key learnings: (1) Adoption of improved land use practices by farmers is influenced by their specific farm context. (2) A ‘one size fits all’ approach to improved land use practices is unrealistic. (3) Research and extension programs need to recognise that the ‘best’ solution will depend on farm context.

Key Words

Adoption, land use practices, deer farming


Our aim in this project was to understand the barriers to adoption of improved land care practices, by deer farmers, and to examine the factors involved in influencing farmer decisions on the issues of wallowing, waterway fencing and integrated livestock farming. The integration of sheep and cattle into grazing management of deer farms has the potential to maximise productivity through more efficient pasture utilisation. Furthermore, this practice COULD aid environmental management by providing more options for sustainable land use. Researchers are concerned that farmers are not integrating their stock because of their belief that species should be kept separate for health and social reasons. If some of these barriers can be overcome this will lead to improved flexibility on deer farms to manage environmental issues and realise the farms’ productive potential, as well as improving economic sustainability through spreading risk and income across several species of livestock.


The approach taken to understanding the adoption of new agricultural technologies draws on the conceptual foundations of consumer behaviour theory (Assael 1998). This theory proposes that consumers use a variety of decision processes when purchasing products. Consumer involvement depends on how important the purchase is to the consumer. High involvement purchases are purchases that are important to the consumer (Assael 1998). These purchases usually involve some form of risk – financial, social or psychological. We believe that the adoption of most agricultural innovations represent a form of high involvement purchase for primary producers. Usually the adoption of a new agricultural practice or technique has significant consequences for the future financial performance of the farm enterprise. The new technology or practice must be integrated into the existing mix of technologies, practices and resources that exist on the farm (Crouch 1981; Kaine and Lees 1994). This means, generally speaking, the likely outcomes of adopting a particular technology or practice are difficult to predict as the compatibility of the technology or practice with the existing farm system, and the resulting benefits, depends on a range of contextual factors that are specific to the circumstances of each farm enterprise. Consequently, the decision to adopt an agricultural innovation is often financially risky. As such they entail social risks and psychological risk in that the outcomes affect the wellbeing of family members and can influence farmers’ feeling of achievement and self-fulfilment.

Consumer behaviour theory suggests that consumers follow a complex decision-making process with high involvement purchases (Assael 1998). Complex decision making is a systematic, often iterative process in which the consumer learns about the attributes of products and develops a set of purchase criteria for choosing the most suitable product. The benefit or purchase criteria represent the key benefits sought by the consumer and generally reflect their usage situation. In the case of consumer goods the usage situation is often a function of the consumer’s past experiences, their lifestyle and their personality (Assael 1998). Consumers from different usage situations will employ different purchase criteria to evaluate products because they seek different benefits from a product, while consumers from similar situations will employ similar criteria. Information on the similarities and differences in the key purchase criteria used by consumers can be used to classify consumers into market segments (Assael 1998). This information can also be used to develop and promote a suite of products with characteristics that are tailored to provide the benefits sought by consumers in each particular segment.

In the case of agriculture the purchase criteria that farmers use to evaluate new technologies should reflect the key benefits the technology offers given farmers’ usage situations. In this instance the usage situation is likely to be a function of the farm context into which a new technology must be integrated. Broadly speaking, the farm context is the mix of practices and techniques used on the farm, and the biophysical and financial resources available to the farm business that influence the benefits and costs of adopting an innovation (Crouch 1981; Kaine and Lees 1994). Similarities and difference among farm contexts for an agricultural innovation will translate into similarities and differences in the key purchase criteria that farmers will use to evaluate that innovation.

Given that the usage situation for agricultural innovations is defined by farm contexts, differences in farm contexts will result in different market segments for an innovation. Logically, the market for an innovation will be defined by the set of farm contexts for which the innovation generates a net benefit (see Kaine and Bewsell 1999; 2000; 2001; 2002; Kaine and Niall 1999; 2001 for examples). Complex decision making can be influenced in two ways (Assael 1998). One is to persuade consumers to change the purchase criteria they use to evaluate products. The second is to change their beliefs about the extent to which products meet their criteria. Both these changes lead to changes in consumers’ evaluations of products which, in turn, may cause changes in product choices.


The use of complex decision making in high involvement purchasing implies that the purchaser develops explicit chains of reasoning to guide their decision making. This is consistent with explanation based decision theory, where the focus is on ‘reasoning about the evidence and how it links together’ (Cooksey 1996). This suggests that there should be shared and complementary patterns of reasoning among deer farmers and consistency in the decisions they reach. Hence, to identify the factors influencing deer farmers decisions we followed a convergent interview process (Dick 1998). Convergent interviewing is unstructured in terms of the content of the interview. The interviewer employs laddering techniques to systematically explore the reasoning underlying the decisions and actions of the interviewee (Grunert and Grunert 1995).

We interviewed 16 deer farmers, eight from the Hawkes Bay and eight from Otago. The New Zealand Deer Farmers Association provided us with the names and details of deer farmers in these regions. Care was taken to interview farmers who were operating large and small scale enterprises, and whose properties were located on flat, rolling or steep terrain. The interviews were semi structured and farmers were asked questions based around four key themes; demographics, wallowing management; waterway fencing; and integrated livestock farming. The demographics of their property included the size, number and type of stock and the number of years they had been involved in the deer industry (see Table 1). Wallowing management focused on problems farmers had experienced and the methods they had used to solve these. Waterway fencing covered the reasons for or against fencing these areas, while integrated livestock farming encompassed questions based on which stock were integrated together and when, and their motivation behind these decisions. Pseudomonas have been used where exerts or descriptions from interviews have been inserted.

In this study we only define the segments rather than qualifying them because of the small sample number. A qualitative approach was used to identify what the issues were. This study will be the basis of a larger phone or postal survey so that we can quantify the overall numbers in each of the segments identified.

Table 1: Demographics of farmer properties


Years in the industry

Total size of property (hectares)

Size of deer block (hectares)



Total Cattle

Total Sheep


27 years







5 years







16 years







Wallowing management

(a) Overview

In our interviews we discovered that farmers generally accepted wallowing as a natural part of deer behaviour. For some it was not an issue. Generally wallows were kept at a minimum, one per paddock, and were never abandoned. Farmers believed that wallows were made over time and therefore it was important to monitor each individual wallow for potential problems. When farmers were asked what time of year was most common for deer to wallow three specific times were mentioned. Hinds tended to wallow when they were hot, while stags wallowed during the roar. Throughout October till December, when deer are moulting, many farmers noticed an increase in the amount of wallowing occurring.

(b) Problems

While there were a few farmers who did not believe they had any problems with wallowing, those who had experienced problems could be outlined in five groups;

  • soil and pasture damage
  • trough damage
  • danger to humans
  • acceptance by meat processing plant
  • visual problems

Most farmers believed that deer choose one spot in a paddock in which to wallow and therefore erosion and soil damage occurred over time. Farmers complained about the large holes which deer made through wallowing. For example, Kevin and Mary (Hawkes Bay) had a six feet deep wallow which had gradually got deeper over 20 years and it was not until it had reached this level that they decided to do something about the problem.

Another problem associated with soil damage was the damage wallows caused to pasture quality. Farmers observed that deer wallow in the wettest areas of the paddock, destroying grass. In some cases, the deer would make further wallows in the paddock, while still using the original wallow, ruining even more pasture. Some farmers commented on wallows being formed around troughs. When the weather was hot farmers noticed that deer liked to splash the water from the troughs and make a wallow. An example of this was given by Tony (Hawkes Bay) who piled rocks around a trough to try to prevent the deer wallowing. He noticed that his deer “got water out of it [the trough] and over the rocks and made a wallow”. So although he had attempted to solve the problem, he had merely moved the wallow area.

The most common problem associated with deer wallowing was the potential danger to humans. Farmers spoke of having six feet deep wallows which is a danger for farm machinery, including motorbikes and tractors. Farmers therefore needed to be aware of the location of every dangerous wallow on the property and be able to tell anyone on the farm where they are.

The meat processing plant not accepting muddy deer was another problem which was commonly cited by farmers. When deer wallow they get muddy and farmers stated that it was not easy to clean them. If these deer are not accepted by the processing plant then it costs the farmer time, money and effort. As Michael from Hawkes Bay discovered, “last year 50 deer were rejected due to mud” but he did not find out until they arrived at the plant and they had to be transported back to his farm, which involved time and money, as well as annoying the transport company. Another farmer stated that it was a “bloody awful problem” (Ken, Otago) and one to which he could not see a solution.

Furthermore, wallowing was perceived by farmers to be a visual problem and farmers did not like looking at them as “wallows detract from a tidy looking place” (Bruce, Hawkes Bay), while another farmer believed wallows were “annoying and ugly, especially when one was in the middle of the paddock” (Martin, Otago). For others, although they were a visual eyesore they did not consider them a problem, as Alan stated he “didn’t like seeing wallows but not a problem yet”

(c) Solutions

While there was a diverse range of problems caused by wallowing, many farmers had implemented solutions to either halt or decrease the damage caused by wallows. For a few farmers if the wallows were out of the way they did not worry about them that much unless they started to get too deep. A few farmers left the wallows because if they fixed them, the deer started another wallow somewhere else.

To stop the wallows getting deeper some farmers placed rocks and bricks into the holes to try to decrease the damage. This stopped the deer from making the wallow deeper. Farmers who had problems with wallowing around their troughs tried to minimise it by either not putting as much water into sheep troughs so the deer could not get it out and make a wallow or by buying little troughs which the deer can only drink from. Where wallows were being made in wet areas of the paddock farmers tried to decrease the problem by draining these areas. Others let the deer play in their dams so they would not damage the pasture. Where deer had started to make a mess one farmer had fenced off a 0.5 kilometres by 0.5 kilometres area and planted it in pine trees. There were five such areas on the property.

The problem of muddy deer at the processing plant occurred during the period when deer were shedding their winter coats (they seek relief from the associated itching by wallowing) and were being processed by conventional hind leg hanging (c.f. inverted dressing). At that time even clean deer would be shedding hair over the carcass and potentially causing just as much bacterial contamination. One approach that could be taken by the company would be to avoid all processing during the shedding season, or change their plant to inverted dressing.

Waterway Fencing

We classified deer farmers into segments based on reasons why they did or did not fence off waterways on their property. The segments are outlined in figure 1. The first segment consisted of farmers who did not have troughs or dams in the paddock. Therefore, they did not fence off these areas as they were the only available water source in the deer block. Alan was an example of farmers in this segment as every deer paddock on the property had a waterway running through it, which led to the main river off the property. These waterways were the only source of water available to the deer and therefore they were not fenced off. If he was required to fence off all waterways it would be expensive, as an extensive trough system would be needed, along with many metres of deer fencing.

Segment two included farmers who did not fence off for practical reasons. While farmers in this segment had other water sources available to their stock they believed it was neither practical nor possible to fence off their waterways. This largely was due to the steep terrain of their property. An example of farmers from this segment included Tony who had a trough in every paddock, but did not believe it was practice to fence off every creek on the farm. He felt it would be physically impossible to fence off every waterway, due to the enormous cost and the steep terrain of the property.

The third segment involved deer farmers who had sources of water for stock other than streams and who felt it was practical and possible to fence off the waterways on their property. These farmers saw fencing off their waterways as a priority. Kevin and Mary were an example of farmers from this segment as they had fenced off all waterways on their property for practical reasons. They had many deep gorges and fencing off these areas kept their stock safe.

Segment four consisted of deer farmers who did not fence off as it was not a priority for them. However, these farmers had sources of water available to them other than streams and believed it was possible to fence off their waterways. An example of farmers from this segment included Eric and Clare who would like to fence off all waterways on the property and plant trees the owners believe the money should be spent elsewhere. They try to save the paddocks with major waterways for silage and hay so stock run-off does not go into the Taieri River.

Figure 1: Typology of segments for Waterway Fencing

In our interviews, most farmers stated that they were waiting for us to bring up the issue of waterway fencing. This demonstrates that farmers are aware of other interest groups and individuals’ views on the topic, which may differ from theirs. Furthermore, many farmers were quite defensive when explaining their reasons for or against waterway fencing and this suggests that farmers believe that the general public believe in fencing off waterways but do not understand the practical implications of such an activity. Also, farmers questioned our definition of a waterway and argued about whether a stream that ran for half the year was considered a waterway, or a small drain. This is a significant finding, as if legislation makes fencing off waterways compulsory, a working definition of ‘waterways’ must be created, one on which farmers and the public agree.

When the only source of water for animals is a waterway many farmers do not see the need nor do they want to spend money on a trough system. For some farmers, waterways run through every paddock and the logistics and money required to fence off waterways would be substantial. Therefore, if it was required, measures would have to be put into place which either subsidised farmers or allowed fencing to be undertaken over a period of time. Otherwise, especially with the current slump in deer prices, farmers would find it financially difficult and may refuse.

Farmers stated that it was impractical to fence off every waterway on their property due to the terrain. Many believed it was impossible to fence off their waterways and if they were forced to, many would have to retire paddocks from deer altogether as it would be too expensive and render the paddocks unproductive.

For those farmers who did fence off waterways it was a farm priority for two reasons, both practical; erosion and bank control and stock control. Fencing off gullies and waterways meant that farmers with steep properties did not lose valuable stock or have to search for stock in dangerous areas. Farmers who fenced off for erosion and bank control did so to protect the land surrounding the waterway. This suggests that when promoting fencing off waterways, practical issues should dominate.

Integrated Livestock Farming

Overall we found most farmers integrated other livestock with their deer, to keep ragwort down and to enhance pasture quality. However, a variety of forms of integrated livestock farming emerged from our interviews. We classified deer farmers into segments based on reasons why they did or did not integrate sheep and beef (see figure 2). The first segment consisted of farmers who had beef disease problems (Tb) and therefore could only integrate sheep with their deer. John and Heather were an example of these farmers as they used to integrate both sheep and beef with the deer but John now believes he cannot legally run deer and beef together due to the Tb status of their beef. They can run sheep and deer in the same paddock though.

The second market segment consisted of farmers who did not have a beef disease problem but rather had a sheep disease problem and therefore only integrated beef with the deer. For example Ross and Kaye do not run sheep and deer together due to the rumours they have heard about the deadly diseases which sheep can give deer. Furthermore, due to the size of the property (1212 hectares) keeping sheep and deer apart is easy. They only run beef with their deer to keep the pasture down.

Segment three included those farmers who did not have a disease problem but had problems with ragwort and pasture quality issues. These farmers integrated both sheep and beef with the deer. An example from this segment included Garry and Jan who graze beef with the deer in summer for pasture quality control while sheep are grazed in summer for ragwort control. They are mindful however that deer are the number one priority due to the inflexibility of where you can put them and they do not want to starve the deer by having large numbers other stock with them.

The fourth market segment involved farmers who tended not to have a disease problem yet experienced problems with ragwort. Furthermore, these farmers felt that pasture quality was not an issue. These farmers integrated only sheep. Graham and Jan were an example of these farmers as sheep are integrated to keep ragwort down and fawns are integrated with sheep when they reach five weeks old. While cattle are not integrated with the deer, they do follow behind the deer to clean up the ‘rough stuff’ in the paddock.

Segment five consisted of farmers who did not have a disease or a ragwort problem but pasture quality was an issue and therefore these farmers integrated beef with their deer. An example of a farmer from this segment included Martin who integrated beef and deer together about 20 percent of the time for both pasture management and farm management in general. There are no sheep on the property and he does not have a ragwort issue.

The sixth segment included farmers who did not have a disease problem and ragwort and pasture quality were not an issue. These farmers did however have a logistic issue and farmed deer only for this reason. For example Ken does not integrate sheep or cattle with the deer as a main road runs through the property. This makes it harder to move stock and Ken believes the hassle involves is not worth it.

The seventh and final segment consisted of farmers who did not have a disease problem and ragwort and pasture quality were not an issue. These farmers did however work off the farm and farmed only deer for this reason. John and Mary are an example from this segment as they solely farm deer. They do not feel that they need sheep or beef to complement the deer as they believe the deer eat the grass down well. Furthermore, John as a full time job off the property.

Figure 2: Typology of segments for Integrated Livestock Farming

The segments describe various factors which have influenced framers decisions regarding integrated livestock farming. The farm context is important in understanding these decisions. Generally most farmers integrated sheep and/or beef with their deer and those that did not had specific reasons for this decision based on their farm context. The findings of our interviews with farmers indicate the key factors motivating deer farmers to integrate, or not integrate, sheep and beef with their deer include;

  • Pasture management
  • Weed management
  • Logistics
  • Disease issues

For farmers with disease problems, such as Tb in cattle, they cannot legally integrate their cattle and deer together and therefore their only option is to integrate sheep. This limits farmers both in their ability to put in place sustainable land use practices and to increase farm productivity through an increase in pasture and weed management.

Farmers who integrated cattle with their deer did so to improve their pasture management. Deer are picky eaters and cattle complement this by eating the ‘roughage’ in a paddock, increasing the productivity of the paddock. Farmers who integrated sheep with their deer did so to control weeds. While sheep and deer compete for the same grass, sheep also eat ragwort which deer do not. Without having sheep to keep the ragwort down, farmers would have to manually spray or pull it out, which costs time and money.

Those farmers who did not integrate livestock and had off-farm jobs wanted to keep their farming operation simple. They believed introducing sheep and/or cattle would require more time and effort for them. Therefore for this segment, although integration with other stock would increase pasture utilisation, these farmers do not see enough overall benefit to integrating stock.


The aim of this project was to understand the barriers to adoption, by deer farmers, of improved land care practices and examine the factors involved in influencing decisions to change these factors. Wallowing was considered a natural phenomenon and there was a general level of “just dealing with it” amongst farmers. While farmers raised a number of issues caused by wallowing, every farmer had attempted to either decrease or top the specific problem depending on their farm context. Waterway fencing was a sensitive topic, with many farmers arguing that it is impractical to fence off every waterway on their properties. Furthermore, many questioned our definition of a waterway and argued was a stream that ran for half the year considered a waterway, or a small drain. Most farmers integrated sheep and/or cattle with their deer for pasture management and/or weed control. While those that did not, had specific reasons not to, including disease constraints and wanting to keep their farm operation simple. Finally, research and extension programs need to recognise that the “best” solution will depend on the farm context.

Assael H (1998). Consumer Behaviour and Marketing Action. Cincinnati, South Western.

Cooksey RW (1996). Judgment Analysis: Theory Methods and Applications. San Diego, Academic Press Inc.

Crouch B (1981). Innovation and Farm Development: A Multi-Dimensional Model. Extension Education and Rural Development. Brisbane, Wiley and Sons.

Dick B (1998). Convergent Interviewing: A Technique for Data Collection [on line].

Grunert K and Grunert S (1995). "Measuring Subjective Meaning Structures by the Laddering Method: Theoretical Considerations and Methodological Problems." International Journal of Research in Marketing 12(3): 209-225.

Kaine G and Bewsell D (1999). Soil Monitoring, Irrigation Scheduling and Fruit Production, University of New England, Armidale.

Kaine G and Bewsell D (2000). Soil Monitoring, Irrigation Scheduling and Fruit Production, University of New England, Armidale.

Kaine G. and Bewsell D (2001). Managing Irrigation for Grape Production, University of New England, Armidale.

Kaine G and Bewsell D (2002). Soil Monitoring, Irrigation Scheduling and Vegetable Production, University of New England, Armidale.

Kaine G and Lees J (1994). Patterns in Innovation. Armidale, NSW, The Rural Development Centre, UNE.

Kaine G and Niall E (1999). Market Segmentation and Wet Soils Management, University of New England, Armidale.

Kaine G and Niall E (2001). Sheep Breeding: Complex Decision Making and Brand Loyalty, University of New England, Armidale.

New Zealand Deer Farmers’ Association (2004). The New Zealand Deer Farmers’ Land Manual. Timaru, Herald Print.

Previous PageTop Of PageNext Page