Winter food restriction and summer compensation in red deer stags (Cervus elaphus)

Suttie, J.M.; Goodall, E.D.; Pennie, K.; Kay, R.N.

British Journal of Nutrition 50(3): 737-747


ISSN/ISBN: 0007-1145
PMID: 6639930
DOI: 10.1079/bjn19830145
Accession: 001281293

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Twelve red deer stags (Cervus elaphus) penned individually from weaning were fed on a concentrate diet. Six stags received the diet to appetite throughout the study, and the other 6 were restricted to 70% of the intake of the first group during winter and then fed to appetite during summer. The winter-restricted stags showed remarkable compensatory growth during summer. Compared with the unrestricted stags they showed greater food intake, greater daily liveweight gain and increased food conversion efficiency. Nonetheless, they failed to compensate fully for the previous undernutrition. The hind-foot of the restricted stags failed to grow as long as that of the unrestricted stags. Poor winter nutrition, particularly during the first year of life, and subsequent failure to compensate during the short periods of summer plenty, provides an explanation for the small mature size of wild stags in Scotland. Although the winter-restricted stags were less fat both grossly and relative to bodyweight than the unrestricted stags, both groups showed the same relation of level of fatness to empty-bodyweight. In both the groups of stags, extensive fat deposition began once they had reached about half their expected mature weight, a much later stage of development and age than in sheep and cattle. The annual cycle of growth and appetite is considered to form part of a complex adaptive system to improve survival in a harsh seasonal environment followed by a mild seasonal environment. On Scottish hills deer reach a size appropriate to their environment rather than their genetic potential size.