Herd management requires a detailed knowledge of both deer behaviour and needs, as well as a knowledge of the location, distribution, abundance and use of the various deer foods on any particular range.
Husbandry decisions which farmers have to make include how many animals should be slaughtered and what the male-female ratios should be for a satisfactory herd increase. They must also assess calving mortality and range conditions, and ensure the elimination of diseased stock.
The question of herd composition is of major concern to a farmer who wishes to obtain the highest possible returns. Naturally the structure of herds - the number of male and female deer of different ages - will vary, depending on the objectives of management.
Although farmed deer may appear quite tame, they are potentially dangerous to the people who handle them. As pointed out elsewhere, this is particularly true for red deer stags during the rutting season. Fallow deer bucks do not become dangerous during the rut. Fences should be checked regularly during the rutting season, because, for example, two fallow deer bucks with a fence between them may dig a rutting hole on each side, which can easily become a hole under the fence.
When segregating deer in enclsoures, it should be kept in mind that in most species males and females associate in separate groups during the greater part of the year. There should be enough paddocks to handle the different age and sex groups of animals to be reared.
Females in an advanced state of pregnancy should not be moved: when at Invermay, New Zealand, red deer hinds were taken to new enclosures shortly before calving, considerable calf mortality occurred, partly because they were trampled by the adults (Kelly and Whateley, 1975).
Catching of deer entails stress and should, therefore, be minimized as much as possible. Any disruption in daily routines, or in constituents of the diet, may cause a state of stress with a reduction in productivity. Maintaining very regular daily routines is important so that the animal's own space-time relationship is not disrupted (Fox, 1967).
Training should be enhanced by social facilitation, where untrained animals may be motivated to follow the actions of trained ones.
Culling of deer should be practised: those which are not thriving or give trouble when moving a herd should be culled.
Index cards should be kept for each individual, recording information on parentage, weight, body measurements and breeding history. Individual deer should be ear-tagged for identification.
In the winter deer should be given some kind of cover, although dense cover is usually only used during snow storms.
The management problems of deer generally relate to behaviour.
Most deer associated in groups. Males typically gather a herd or harem during the rutting season. Males of the same species often fight among themselves for the possession of a harem. It has been observed that stags without antlers do not fight nearly as much as those with antlers.
Deer behaviour is altered, often drastically under certain conditions, as a consequence of the effects of domestication. For example, farmed reindeer do not show any migratory tendencies.
Hand reared hinds are useful for quietening other deer in a herd, but they can occassionally become aggresive towards strangers and particularly towards children. Hand reared stags are a widely recognised hazard at all times and especially during the mating season. They should never be trusted.
Deer rapidly adapt to the presence of man and machinery when they are enticed with palatable foodstuffs.
Generally deer will handle well in yards they are accustomed to; they should, therefore, be trained for that purpose.
Handling deer can be greatly simplified by darkening the environment, e.g. roofing over yards. Although the great majority of red deer will respond quietly in the dark, a few will not and may attack. Fallow deer do not respond as well as red deer to a darkened environment.
When deer are confined, they should not be over-crowded, so that a handler can move amongst them and carry out drenching, ear tagging, vaccination and pour-on dipping.
For veterinary inspection, physical restraint of the deer is necessary, so that temperatures and blood samples can be taken and examination of the mouth and administration of anaesthetics, fluids and drugs carried out. Ideally deer should be held individually for this purpose in a very small, darkened pen or crush, and the handler should gently physically restrain the animal. Excessive stress can be prevented by making quiet and unhurried movements. Weight applied down on the shoulder, with an arm about the neck or over the eyes will generally suffice.
The degree of restraint placed on a sick animal will depend on a person's assessment of the risk of applying it. Stress of restraint alone may accelerate death of a sick deer, or may delay recovery.
Training of young stock is advantageous, as mustering and handling ability will improve with progressive generations. Young stock should be located close to areas of human activity, so that they become familiar with man's presence and activities.
Hinds become restless before dropping their fawns, and move away from their herd in search for a suitable location for parturition. Some below and frequently sit and rise agitatedly. The vulva swells and the hind often turns and licks the vulval region.
Generally the stag with the largest antlers is dominant, but threatening and intimidating behaviour patterns also contribute to assertion of dominance. Oestrous female deer will seek out the stag with the largest antlers, indicating a male-female interaction dependant on antlers. Antlers are also used for defence, preparing scrapes and wallows, and for marking territories.
At mating time in the wild, red deer stags attempt to round up hinds into harems from which they exclude other stags. The result is that a few big stags hold most of the hinds while the rest move around searching for hinds, trying to steal them from harems and, occasionally, challenging a harem master. Master is performed by the harem masters.
It is important for the deer farmer to know what the sex ratio should be for reproductive purposes. Opinions differ on this and in any case optimal sex ratios vary with sizes of deer farms and species concerned.
The restrictions to movement and high stocking rates imposed on farms can allow red deer stags to establish very large harems. When fewer than 6 stags were present in herds of up to 200 hinds in paddocks less than 10 ha in size at Invermay, New Zealand, one stag in each herd held nearly all hinds in a harem over the peak of mating and performed all observed matings. Over most of the mating period the subordinate stags remained well away from the harem and the dominant stag. Thus, under the conditions imposed on farms, dominant stags were able to cover far more hinds than is possible in the wild. During a single breeding season, some stags that held large harems sired more than 70 calves before they were deposed by rival stags or removed from the herd.
According to Kelly and Moore (1978) a stag: hind ratio at mating of 1:10 is an excessive use of stags. Results obtained at Invermay indicate that, should a more intensive selection of stags on the basis of size and conformation and/or an antler development be desirable, then a stag: hind-ratio of 3:100 would be adequate.
In Scotland in mating groups, ratios are used of one stag to eight hinds or two stags to 25 hinds (Sharman, 1978). According to Sharman there may be an advantage in admitting a second younger stag at the same time as an older, dominant stag is put with his group of hinds.
Observations on the mating performances of stags less than 3 years old at Invermay suggest that their behavioural characteristics are not fully developed, and that, therefore, they would probably be incapable of mating a large number of hinds (Kelly and Moore, 1978).
The herd composition of musk deer should be based on sex, age and health conditions. These deer are segregated into equal numbers of males and females or on a polygamy basis.
The sex ratio of musk deer in large enclosures is one male to 3–7 females. Groups generally contain 10–15 animals. As juvenile males will fight each other with the help of their canines, they should be kept in individual enclosures.
Successful deer farming requires an understanding of the basic reproductive characteristics of the deer species concerned and the factors which may effect their performance.
In the following, the reproductive performance of red deer is discussed, while some reference is made to similar data about musk deer and fallow deer. Inadequate information is available about the productivity of the other deer species being farmed, but it may be assumed that the pattern is similar amongst species belonging to the genus Cervus.
Fertility among deer is dertermined either by the female/offspring ratio, which gives an impression of previous offspring mortality, or by the number of embryos found in shot deer, which does not provide data on subsequent abortions.
Twinning is fairly common among some deer species, while triplets occur occasionally. It is, however, rare among fallow deer and even rarer among red deer. Musk deer sometimes produce twins. It is hazardous to try to base the percentage of twins in a herd on observations of two suckling calves with one female, because adoption of calves does occur.
As a general rule female deer give birth for the first time when they are two years old; males are also sexually fertile at this age, although their behavioural characteristics are often not fully developed until they are three years old. The proportion of breeding yearling females varies from none to ± 40% in different populations and years (R.D. Taber, pers. comm.). A condensed calving period of about 25 days at Invermay, New Zealand, indicates that most hinds conceive during their first breeding cycle.
The physiological condition of females is naturally important for fertility. Good nutrition has a definite positive influence on fertility. Oestrus is often absent in animals of poor condition; while at the other end of the scale, obesity has been reported to result in infertility (Verme, 1965). Red deer may not calve for the first time until aged three years and on the island of Rhum (Scotland), 40% of mature hinds failed to breed there each year (Mitchell, 1969).
Preferential feeding is desirable for the achievement of good reproductive performance in young deer.
There is a positive correlation between body weight and fertility: experiments at Invermay, New Zealand, showed that the percentage of red deer calves dropped by yearling hinds less that 65 kg in liveweight was only 50%, while above 65 kg it could be about 90% (Kelly and Moore, 1978). In Scotland, young hinds weighing less than 60 kg at rutting did not produce calves (Sharman, 1978). Other data obtained in Scotland by Mitchell and Brown (1974) suggest that a liveweight of 75 kg for hinds should give calving percentages of 80%. These authors prepared a model of the relationship between age, weight and fertility for red deer. They also stated that the highest fertility for red deer lies in year classes 5 to 8 and that there is a definite difference between hinds with and without calves, namely the latter have a better chance of becoming pregnant again. Results obtained at the deer farm at Invermay, New Zealand, indicate that in red deer calving percentages in excess of 90% can be achieved (Kelly and Moore, 1978).
In large herds, yearlings should be separated from older females for mating because their breeding performance may be adversely affected by competition with older animals.
Fallow deer normally produce young once a year from their second year on. Given fallow deer older than 27 months, together with a programme of culling dry does, fawning rates of 90% can be achieved. Deer farmers should aim for a calving rate in excess of 90% from mature red and fallow deer.
The average oestrous cycle of red deer lasts 18.3 days, and the number of cycles is two +. The length of oestrous is 12 hours. Puberty in doe fallow deer is reached in 15 months, and a weight of 50 kg is required for sexual maturity.
Calving paddocks should be situated as far away as possible from human activity; they should have adequate cover for hiding the newly-born deer and they should not be visited during calving, because human interference may result in mis-mothering and rogue behaviour by some hinds which may attack and kill calves.
The management of stags at mating is a crucial factor in reproduction and much of it is related to their competitive behaviour. Stags intended for mating should be well fed prior to the rutting season, as during that time there are considerable weight losses.
In selecting breeding stags, it is necessary (a) that those from which the most calves are required are the heaviest, and (b) that there are differences in liveweights between these stags and others in the mating groups, to allow dominance to be easily established and prevent fighting from interfering with mating activity.
Single stag mating groups should be avoided on deer farms, especially with unproven stags, since an infertile stag could have disastrous effects on the calving percentage and/ or pattern of calving. Semen testing of males at the start of breeding would be an advisable practice. In a single harem situation, there is a danger that the dominant stag will become sexually exhausted. He will be seen mounting frequently without serving a hind. If this occurs, he should be replaced with another stag.
Small herds of red deer generally have a better reproductive performance than large herds. In small paddocks dominant stags can hold more hinds in harems than they can mate. To overcome this problem, herd size should be limited to 50–100 hinds when mating paddocks are of less than 10 ha.
Multiple (more than two) stag matings should be avoided, as this often results in injury to stags.
Defence of a harem results in enormous weight losses in dominant stags. Another disadvantage of multiple stag groups is that the farmer has little control over which stag becomes the sire, and thus selection advantage is impaired. Single stag groups may be impractical, however, on large farms with little subdivision.
There are advantages in mating first calvers in separate groups to avoid competition and to enable preferential feeding of them. From birth to weaning, a calf death rate of 5 – 10% is normal and virtually all these occur within a few days of birth. Stress of capture and transport often results in abortions and two-years-old hinds having a lower calving performance.
The breeding of musk deer is carefully supervised in China. A breeding record is kept for each female to calculate the correct date of birth. Following mating the females should be disturbed as little as possible. After the third month of pregnancy females should be given as much exercise as possible and exposed to sunshine in order to build up their health and to speed up the growth of the foetus. One month before birth the amount of food should be reduced according to the physiological condition of the females concerned in order to prevent dystocia as a result of excessive fat accumulation. During the period of parturition, each female should be inspected 3–4 times daily. Females that give birth for the first time, and also bad-tempered ones, should be transferred to a delivery room 1–3 days before parturition occurs. These pregnant females should be disturbed as little as possible. Two to three hours after parturition the females should be given a small quantity of water and high quality fodder. During the subsequent few days they should gradually be given more meals per day, but less than the normal amount each time, in order to prevent indigestion caused by over-eating.
The delivery room should not be cleaned within 3–7 days after parturition, in order to avoid desertion of the young by their mothers. Before cleaning, the newly-born should be put into another room or simply released with their mothers to prevent possible injuries or deaths caused by trampling. Females lactating weakly should be fed separately from the others with palatable grass and nutritions choice fodder.
Stud males should be selected before September each year. The use of studs that are too young, too old or too wild should be avoided. If two males are used per herd, they should be used separately, in order to avoid fighting. After completion of the rut, these males should be removed from the herd.
Red deer calves will generally wean themselves within 4–6 months, but they may continue to suckle from their mother as yearlings if not weaned.
Weaning should preferably take place prior to the mating season because this allows the farmer to concentrate on quietening and training the young deer by yarding, herding and feeding before they are disturbed by mating groups.
As young deer are prone to fall into holes, ponds and the like, paddocks containing these hazards should be avoided for fawning. Too much cover and particularly swampy areas, should be avoided as it will be difficult to know under those circumstances exactly how many fawns were lost after birth.
A major problem can be that the young deer are caught in netting fences. This problem can be reduced by placing the pregnant deer in large paddocks. Also, fences should be checked twice daily and injured fawns should be picked up for treatment. A screen around the fence of a weaning paddock will decrease stress.
If female fallow deer and their fawns are approached cautiously, there should not be much of a problem during fawning and in handling fawns. The checking of females and their fawns can save the lives of many fawns. If the fawns are to be removed from their mothers, care should be taken that they are at least one day old (feet hardened off, coat dry) in order to ensure that they have had colostrum. Fawns should be tagged, inoculated and have their navels sprayed. Where fawns are weaned in small, specially-fenced paddocks, drenching should be repeated at intervals not greater than 21 days.
It is desirable that weaning of red deer calves takes place at 4–5 months of age, i.e. immediately before or after mating, provided that good food and adequate sub-division of paddocks will be available. Weaning by mid-year appears to be preferable, because it allows the fawns to be given preferential feed when they need it to maximise their growth, while their mothers do not have the same requirements at that time.
At weaning, deer should be drenched and vaccinated against appropriate infectious diseases (e.g. tetanus, black leg, woody tongue, anthrax etc.).
Deer calves can be fed by bottle, bucket or multiple suckling units. Regardless of the systems chosen, meticulous hygiene of both feeding apparatus and environment, together with provision of adequate warmth and shelter can assist in averting many health problems.
Best results in raising fawns are achieved in New Zealand when full cream cows' milk is used with additives in the following proportions: 900–1 200 ml fresh cows' milk; one egg yolk; 5 ml (1 teaspoon) cod-liver oil; and approximately 20 g glucose (1 tablespoon). This mixture is gradually diluted to cows milk alone over the first 3–4 weeks of life.
In the United States calves are raised on a mixture of condensed milk and water, in a ratio of 5:3 (Reichert, 1972).
While initially red deer calves should be fed four times, this can soon be reduced to three times. By 2–3 weeks after catching, the calves are taught to help themselves. When all calves in a group are thriving well, a source of drinking water is provided and troughs with solid food - concentrates and dried grass or good quality hay - are put in the pens. At 3–4 months the calves are turned out to pasture.
It is advisable to stimulate defecation and urination in young deer calves by gently massaging the rump and perineum with a damp sponge. This mimics maternal stimulation of defecation during natural suckling and avoids retention of faeces and constipation.
Red deer calves consume solids from about 2 weeks of age. Good quality pasture, meal and other palatable concentrates should therefore be provided from and eraly age. Deer calves can be weaned from 6–8 weeks, but the benefits of continuing milk feeding for 3–4 months or more should not be ignored. Two months of milk feeding is enough for fallow deer (Hartfiel and Möhlenbruch, 1977).
Scours, arthritis, and other bacterial diseases are a major problem to young deer, but these can generally be avoided with good hygiene, management, prophylactic vaccination and optimum nutrition.
It is advisable to supplementary feed weaners during the winter as this tends to quieten them and facilitate future handling and management as well as encourage them to grow to peak capacity.
The birth of musk deer should take place in a dry and warm delivery room without any draught. This room should be divided in such a way that the young can be easily separated from their mothers.
Newly-born deer less than one week old should not be touched, as they are easily abandoned by their mothers. Fawns start to eat grass by themselves when 15 days old. They should be fed fresh and tender grass and high quality fodder.
Weaning should take place when the young are 3 months old. This is a crucial period in the farming of musk deer and high mortality can result from improper handling. Several methods are used in China:
separate the young deer from its mother;
separate females from their young, group by group, at different times;
leave the young deer in their enclosures until they are one year old.
Weaners should only be given high quality fodder. Sick and weak weaners should be fed separately to ensure that they survive their first winter.
Two-month-old and weak young musk deer should be placed in a dark, quiet shed and be given a rest of about 2–3 hours before nursing. Besides being fed by bottle or nursed by sheep, the young can also be entrusted to a wet nurse that has only one young and sufficient milk.
Hybridisation does not normally occur in the wild, but it may happen rather frequently in captivity, particularly if individuals of closely related species are confined together.
In Great Britain and Ireland red deer have hybridised with sika deer. These crossings also occur in their original biotopes (Lowe and Gardiner, 1975).
In New Zealand hybridisation between red deer and wapiti has occurred in the wild and is now taking place on deer farms. At the Invermay Agricultural Research Centre wapiti bulls have been used as sires of red deer hinds to produce heavier, faster growing calves for the increased production of venison and superior velvet antler yields. It was found that mating of young or small hinds to wapiti bulls should be avoided, because of difficult births. Hybrid males grow 18% faster than red deer. As there could be important side effects within the breeding groups, much more information is needed in order to assess any advantage of cross breeding. It was also found that extra care should be taken when handling hybrids because they are more inclined to use their front feet than most red deer and, because of their size, they can do more damage.
In North America efforts have been made to cross-breed domesticated reindeer and wild caribou. The resultant cross is a larger, heavier and more self-reliant animal (Whitehead, 1972).
Although white-tailed deer and mule deer are not used on deer farms at present, these species are known to hybridise and produce viable offspring (Wishart, 1980).
It pays a deer farmer to obtain as high growth rates as possible on his farm, because this generally results in high reproductive rates and velvet production. As inadequate information is available in the literature about the growth rates of various species of deer that are now farmed, data presented in this section will be mainly restricted to growth rates of red deer and fallow deer.
Growth in red deer is seasonal in nature, even when feed on offer is abundant and of high quality. The growth period starts in early spring and continues for about 6 months. The growth of hinds is similar to that of stags. In all species of deer, yearling females show a similar pattern of growth to that of males, but at a lower level. For example, red deer stags in New Zealand have grown during their first year at a rate 60% higher than hinds. Growth is much restricted during the winter as related to a reduced food intake; deer just do not seem to want to eat much during that season. However, experimental work at Invermay, New Zealand, with yearling stags fed during a 10-week winter period indoors on a high quality diet showed that winter nutrition had a marked effect on both liveweight gain and pedicle initiation. On the wild range loss of weight may often occur during the winter. After under-nourishment during that season, compensatory growth takes place in the spring.
As already pointed out, there is a considerable loss of weight among red deer stags, particularly older ones, during the rut. For example, in Scotland a loss of weight of 15% occurred among stags (Mitchell et al., 1977). Weight losses can be minimized, however, by high levels of feeding.
Adult hinds show weight gains in late pregnancy, but may lose as much as 13 kg, or 20% of their weight, as a result of suckling. There may also be a period of weight loss during the winter.
Young red deer calves show a low rate of gain over the autumn/winter period following weaning at 100 days of age, with a high rate of gain during spring/summer when the animals are 9–15 months of age.
In New Zealand, red deer have proved to be extremely efficient at harvesting grass and in making better use of the seasonal growth than sheep, because their main food intake coincides with the summer growing season.
With good nutrition on deer farms, better growth rates can be obtained than in the wild, e.g., New Zealand farmed red deer stags are at 27 months of age almost twice the weight of feral stags of the same age. Feedlot stag carcasses were 20 kg heavier at 27 months of age than grass fed stags of the same age (Drew, 1976). A mixed sex herd of yearlings stocked at 26.4/ha on first class agricultural land at Invermay produced 740 kg carcass/ha in 6 months (Drew, op. cit.).
With intensive feeding of weaned red deer calves, a growth rate of 350 g/day is possible. On the basis of this, Blaxter (1972) has considered the possibility to wean calves early, to raise them on a concentrated diet, and to leave the herds on the range with a 50% higher stocking rate.
Fallow deer calves in West Germany grow at the rate of 207 and 152 g/day for bucks and does respectively during the period June to the beginning of October (Reinken, 1977).
There is no advantage to castrating stags if they are to be slaughtered for venison. In fact, castration resulted at Invermay, New Zealand, in a 9% lesser body weight at 15 months and 16% less weight at 27 months than if this is not done (Moore and Brown, 1977). In addition, the castrated males had more fat.
Velvet production relates directly to the food input and the physiological condition of the animals concerned. Antler velvet yields can be increased by 20–25% as a result of better late winter feeding (Drew, 1980).
While semi-wild reindeer show a clearly defined rise and fall in their growth curves during the year, those fed on farms on green plants, grass and silage had rising curves, or in the case of adults, at least level curves. Farmed reindeer have a greater average weight than their wild counterparts. A diet superior in protein, vitamins and trace element content to natural supplies exerted a positive influence on the condition and later development of reindeer calves (Kurkela, 1976).
In West Germany, fallow deer are born with a weight of about 5 kg and weigh 20–26 kg in the fall when the bucks are about 4 kg heavier than the does. At one year of age bucks weigh 52–53 kg and does weigh about 44 kg at 17 months. At the end of their second year bucks weigh 60–64 kg, which is not yet their maximum weight (Reinken, 1977).
Deer can be mustered (herded), on foot, horseback, motorbike, vehicle, or with a well disciplined dog; the key to success is patience: keep your distance, position and head at all times. Generally deer will move where desired, provided that the design of gateways, yard entries and other structures is appropriate. If your deer don't yard today, try again tomorrow. Movements and conversation should be deliberate. Deer will respond to moderate human voices, but are frightened by sudden or excessive noise and movements.
A combination of the use of dogs and horses is probably the best method of mustering red deer, because these deer don't fear people as much when they are mounted on a horse. A motorcycle can also be used for mustering with satisfactory results.
Mustering should be done early in the morning and yard work by mid-day, because deer tend to become very unsettled in the yards during the afternoons.
Once deer have been mustered, they should be left on their own for an hour or so to settle down and get used to their surroundings. When one is in the yards with them, sudden movements should be avoided as the deer startle easily. Protective clothing and crash helmets should be worn when working in close proximity or manhandling the deer: their feet are very fast and sharp. It helps to develop confidence in handling deer, protects clothing and reduces accident rates. If deer are to be farmed for production and profit, they simply must be able to be handled.
Don't yard deer the night before you want to handle them, as they are most difficult to handle on an empty stomach. On certain days, mostly due to wind, deer will be disinclined to yard and should preferably be left alone.
Antlered male fallow deer, when excited through mustering or confined in yards, use their antlers severely on their fellow deer, and resulting injuries can be serious and often fatal. Mustering should, therefore, be left until the males have shed their antlers, or are into velvet growth.
Deer settle much better in yards covered with black shade cloth than in open yards. Generally deer will handle well in yards they are accustomed to.
Fallow deer have proven particularly difficult to yard and, therefore, extra time, patience and care is needed for those deer. They become less “agitated” in the yards after they have been through them a number of times.
Yarding of adult female fallow deer may be necessary only for weaning and for a booster prophylactic immunization during pre-fawning.
Well disciplined dogs are ideal for yarding fallow deer. They will keep the stress off the deer, but at the same time the right sort of pressure on them, and they will arrive at the yards reasonably settled. Preferably two dogs should be used. Whichever way one musters, the deer should never be rushed but allowed to make their own way in their own time, especially through gateways and races. Under confined conditions the deer tend to look at the dogs and don't run down a race.
A down-hill race is best for mustering fallow deer, because they do not break back as much as in an uphill one.
Chain mesh netting plus battens give a race a great tunnel effect and there is no way a deer can get its nose caught in the netting to twist or break its neck.
While herding of reindeer was formerly done with dog teams and on foot, it is now carried out mainly with snow machines. Most herds in Alaska are herded and handled twice a year, namely in February-March when the reindeer are tallied and non-breeding bulls castrated; and in June-July, when velvet antler is collected.
A knowledge of the feed requirements of farm animals can assist greatly in management. In their food habits deer are always selective. They seek out the highly palatable food in preference to food of medium or low palatability. Their utilization of food is influenced considerably by the seasons: maximum food intake occurs during the spring when plants generally have their highest protein content, and minimum intake during the winter, when food is scarce. During the rut males ingest little or no food.
Deer can digest large quantities of medium-quality feed, thanks to symbiotic micro-organisms. Even if digestion is incomplete, they still obtain sufficient energy if the range is in good condition.
Where the range has a high carrying capacity throughout the year - which may be the case in tropical areas or where winters are not severe - there is no real need for supplementary feeding. Obviously, additional food should only be provided when it is warranted on the basis of economic considerations.
In feeding operations consideration should be given to the growth pattern, efficiency of food utilization for carcass production, and the needs for maximum velvet production and reproductive performance. One major advantage of supplementary feeding is that it accustoms the animals concerned to human presence.
Care should be taken that there is always sufficient water available: water shortage decreases the digestibility of food, especially of cellulose, and deer will lose weight.
During spring, young stock should be given preferential treatment in supplementary feeding and stags growing velvet should also be provided with good quality food. Undernutrition during spring increases the possibility of metabolic disease in breeding females and affects growth and consequently poor reproductive performance. It also results in poor carcass production, depressed velevet yields and, hence, lowered profitability. In Scotland (Sharman, 1978), hinds are given supplementary feed only during the last month of pregnancy and the first month of loctation.
During summer and autumn, lactating females require a high food intake to maintain loctation and body weight for mating. Good pasture should be provided to the young deer to allow for rapid weight gains. Adult males should be kept at peak body weight in preparation for mating.
Winter feeding should aim at continued growth of young stock, maintenance of body weight in breeding females and sustain or improve the condition of adult males. Provision of high quality winter feed to young males advances the time of pedicle development. In order to increase antler growth beyond what is normally attained in the wild, it is necessary to provide supplementary forage.
If economical supplementary feed could be developed, together with methods of feeding designed to maintain considerably larger herds through the winter, deer farming could be rendered significantly more profitable than it is at the moment. This would be particularly true for reindeer (Kurkela, 1976) and red deer.
Many types and mixtures of supplementary feed are fed to red and fallow deer on farms and some selected examples are given here.
Only good quality hay, such as lucerne hay, should be provided, as hay is difficult for deer to digest.
Acorns are a preferred food, and as they are a good source of energy, they are a suitable feed supplement.
Grain can be fed to good advantage, but too much causes acidiosis and tympany (Wobeser & Runge, 1975).
Other suitable supplementary feed includes chestnuts, oats, maize, potatoes, sesame and sunflower seeds, and root crops.
Deer are generally given a feed mixture, preferably in pellet form. Mixtures includes the following:
Grain, soya-oil meal, lucerne hay and minerals.
Silage grass, soya-oil meal and minerals.
Commercial cow or calf feed mixtures.
Sesame and sunflower seeds, maize and linseed meal, maize oil, molasses and vitamin A, D and E preparations.
A pelleted ration of barley, lucerne and linseed meal, (55:35:10 respectively).
Good quality lucerne hay, deer nuts and grain.
The diet of red deer calves can consist of either barley-based concentrate and dried grass or fodder beet, fed at around 3 kg per head per day. In addition, a daily mixed ration made up of 1 kg of chopped lucerne, 500 g. of chopped grass and 100 g. of oats should be given.
It has been proven possible in Finland to maintain reindeer in a satisfactory condition in enclosures on a diet of green plants - even over prolonged periods. They grew and reproduced without any disturbances attributable to this feed. Reindeer consumed grass and cultivated plants. Fodder cabbage and turnips can be used even in a slightly frozen state, as this has no apparent effect on its nutritive value. The use of grain concentrates boosts the overall strength of the diet. Lichens did not appear essential to the reindeer (Kurkela, 1976).
The estimated maintenance requirements for red deer of 90 and 150 kg over the year are given in the Table 2:
Table 2: Estimated daily maintenance requirements per year of red deer in New Zealand (after Tennessy, 1981)
|ME*||kg pasture DM**||ME||kg pasture DM|
* metabolisable energy (the energy in food which is available to the animal).
** pasture dry matter.
High quality feeds (e.g. spring pasture) have a high ME metabolisable energy content, and in most situations animals can also consume greater quantities of such feeds.
Musk deer are fed a wide variety of plants including beans, bean cakes and other cereals with juicy fruits like pumpkin and melons, along with wild plants. They are fed three times a day in summer, twice in winter, and twice or thrice in spring and autumn.
In China very detailed prescriptions have been worked out for the diets that should be fed daily to both male and female musk deer (Tables 3 and 4).
Musk deer should be given fixed quantities of food at regular time intervals and supplied with ample water.