PRODUCERS are cashing in on explosive deer and goat numbers across the state as a form of extra income and say more should be done to promote the meat, which could play a key role in filling the void left by a shortage of traditional red meat product.
Bingara's Daniel Brewer had been working alongside his mother, Marlene, across their 3640 hectare aggregation of Allambie and Niambar properties until the beginning of drought in 2017 forced him to look off-farm for work.
He got in touch with local producers and spread himself across three different operations doing calf marking and general mustering duties and even went droving in Queensland for three months.
But in the last eight months, Mr Brewer said opportunities for causal work were limited.
"I know quite a few blokes in the area who have gone into the mines, had to do other jobs," he said.
Noticing their growing goat numbers on the properties they fenced off a 10 hectare cultivation paddock with a strong watering point and began trapping mobs of goats up to 150 head.
Gaining an income from their growing pest problem inspired Mr Brewer to become an accredited game harvester focusing on deer and kangaroos.
He is currently shooting 18 to 20 deer across two nights with a dead weight of at least 20 kilograms on their property, which are taken straight to a chiller box at Barraba fetching $2/kg.
Mr Brewer said he made more money in a night than when he was working elsewhere and was now still able to help on their property during the day.
While the majority of the product Mr Brewer supplies is for export, he believed there was potential for the meat product to grow commercially.
"I think anyone who is not going to try and really diversify their assets and where their income is coming from coming out the other side of this is not really thinking very well," he said.
"For anyone who is picky on what kind of beef they want to eat for the next three or four years, they are not going to get much choice. But a lot better management system is necessary too."
Food service industry backs it
Consumer demand for the health benefits and sustainable practices of game meat is growing but deer traders and processors believe it is important the industry doesn't glut the market among the hype.
Hand Sourced is a small food distribution and advocacy company of rare and heritage breeds and sells wild-caught venison from Jonas Widjaja of Fair Game Wild Venison on the north coast.
The business began three years ago when owner Shirley Harring noticed chefs placing an emphasis on understanding the provenance of their fruits, nuts and seeds but falling short on the meat side.
"Wild foods has always been quite controversial but more and more food oriented people are becoming open to the idea of looking at wild foods and teaching them that wild foods should be harvested, which means much less stressful and much more ethical, rather than a farmed traditional game," she said.
Chefs are just as supportive of venison and believe they could be the key to creating consumer demand.
Mark LaBrooy is co-owner of the Three Blue Ducks restaurant chain and this year embarked on a challenge of eating only animals he caught himself.
He now eats venison four or five times a week and utilises the meat across his five restaurants including braised venison shanks, roasting cuts in the rump and air-dried and pressed meat.
Mr LaBrooy said it was disturbing to think the country was going through a protein crisis and yet millions of dollars was being spent on eradicating a healthy animal in the current drought.
"We still live in the 1970s lucky country mentality that we only eat prime cuts of beef because we are the beef country but I think we need to change our tune a little bit because I've been cooking for 20 odd years now and I've seen beef cheeks go from $4/kg to $18/kg," he said.
"We don't live in that world where we have a cheap abundance of sheep and cattle but we have a tonne of wild goats, camels, we have the donkeys in central Australia, we have water buffalo, we have wild brumbies, we have insane amount of kangaroos and just between NSW and Victoria there is an estimated 12.5 to 13.5 million deer.
"There are more wild animals than people in this place and our idea of managing them is to just kill them."
Venison is a significant industry in other countries including New Zealand, which had an export value of $198 million in the year ending September 2018, but it has yet to have the same impact in Australia.
Ms Harring said the biggest hurdle was convincing the broader population that it was an acceptable food source.
"The fallow is light, it's fruity, its so delicate that people who feel that game is 'gamey' and hard and difficult to get their palate around are so shocked at this amazing product," she said.
Alpine Game Meats owner/directorEwen McEwen sells about three tonne of game venison domestically each month.
He said consumers were more likely to buy a wild harvested product over a farmed venison animal due to the natural way they were sourced.