Tikokino farmers Tim Aitken and Lucy Robertshawe have won the international Farming For The Future Award from upmarket UK supermarket chain Marks & Spencer (M&S;).
The deer farmers are members of the Firstlight Venison Producer Group, a co-operative that directly supplies global customers.
Each year, M&S; selects a high performing farmer from each of its five supply regions - England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and international - to promote and celebrate sustainability.
This year, the judges were looking for entries that demonstrated a proactive approach to improving technical efficiency, environmental practice, innovation and product quality. They were keen on entries from farmers sharing best practice with the wider agricultural industry.
A major contribution to the industry is the Aitken Weaning Technique, which relieves the high-stress process of weaning.
Mr Aitken noticed fawns remained calm if weaned into paddocks which they had recently shared with their mothers.
"My take on it is that in the wild, the hind hides the fawns, so they are programmed to wait for them," he said.
Thanks to his technique, fawn survival rates are higher and there is less wear and tear to fences and land.
M&S; head of agriculture and fisheries sourcing Steve McLean said this year there were 50 entries, all of a high standard.
"Our international entries came from a diverse range of businesses, including fruit, vegetable and meat producers, in countries as wide ranging as Greece, Brazil, Argentina, Thailand and New Zealand," he said.
"Our judges were particularly impressed by the entry from Tim and Lucy for the work that they have done on enhancing the natural environment and water quality on their farm, for their involvement in R&D; to improve the New Zealand venison industry, and for their approach to animal welfare."
They go through to the competition to determine an overall winner, decided by public vote at http://plana.marksandspencer.com/we-are-doing/natural-resources/your-farmers/award-winning-farmers. Votes are due by midnight on October 2, with the Champion of Champions being announced on October 4.
Farming together since 1994, they have developed their property, The Steying, to provide an ideal environment for their 600 breeding hinds and progeny.
They are contributing to a Firstlight Venison breeding programme, designed to increase yield "in the box".
Mr Aitken grew up on a farm with 5500 breeding ewes and 400 cattle but much prefers deer.
"I like the challenge. Deer are a new animal and we don't know much about them. I can see a huge potential with them."
He said he had no problem handling deer in the yards despite the animals having a reputation for being dangerous due to their strong flight instinct.
"They are still fairly flighty but they are a lot better than they were - people are culling for temperament a lot harder. In my shed, I have to push them around - I can walk in among them and pat them on the head."
But not all people could work his animals.
"You can have two or three people working in the shed and they'll be quiet as a lamb but when you bring another one in, they get quite stirred up. I don't know what it is but some people just have that way with them.
"I really do enjoy working with them. They are a fantastic animal and it is a fantastic product."
Firstlight Venison aligns about 30 farmers for particular supermarket chains, even placing farmers in the supermarkets to hand out free samples.
"That's where we see the industry going and we like to have that certainty. It is great to be involved with similar thinkers."