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Anim Reprod Sci. 2010 Apr;118(2-4):279-96. doi: 10.1016/j.anireprosci.2009.08.003. Epub 2009 Aug 21.

Evaluation of management variables to advance conception and calving date of red deer (Cervus elaphus) in New Zealand venison production systems.

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AgResearch Ltd., Invermay Agricultural Centre, Private Bag 50034, Mosgiel 9053, New Zealand.


The ability to shift the supply of New Zealand chilled venison from farmed yearling red deer stags to obtain premium prices in seasonal European markets necessitates early calving of hinds combined with high growth rates of their calves. Two studies over a three-year period evaluated three management variables that offer potential to advance calving date. Under the conditions of the studies there was no consistent evidence that the management practices of early stag introduction, early weaning and enhanced hind nutrition prior to conception (lactation) and pre-calving (third trimester of pregnancy) advanced conception date and calving date in red deer hinds. However, the nutrition effect was diminished by the difficultly in achieving the dietary contrast necessary for the targeted 5kg differentiation in hind live weight at strategic times of the year. Across all hinds there was a significant pre-mating (mid-March) live weight effect on conception day in the one year in which a 5kg difference between nutritional regimens was achieved, but the driver was live weight and not nutrition. There were significant effects of nutrition on calf growth, with the growth rates of calves weaned in mid-March significantly higher when their dams grazed a high plane of nutrition pre-conception. There were significant and consistent inverse relationships between conception day and calving date that implied variation around gestation length, with early- and late-conceiving hinds exhibiting longer and shorter gestation lengths, respectively. Across all treatments, calving date was predicted to advance by approximately 5 days for every 10-day advance in conception date. However, there was a significant carry-over effect of nutrition pre-conception on calving date, with hinds on a high plane of nutrition pre-conception exhibiting shorter (2-4 days) gestation lengths. There were also indications that hinds may manipulate gestation length in response to live weight gain pre-calving. These findings suggest that fetal growth trajectory may be the principle driver of gestation length and calving date. Although there were no direct effects of hind nutrition pre-mating on conception dates, nutrition remains an important component of the management of hinds and their calves in venison production systems. The outcomes of the 3-year program suggest that there are limited opportunities to manipulate calving date through manipulation of management variables.

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