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The lactation performance of red deer on hill and improved species pastures

  • A. S. I. Loudon (a1), A. D. Darroch (a1) and J. A. Milne (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 March 2009

Three groups of red deer hinds of 9–10 years of age were grazed upon an indigenous hill pasture (A), an improved species grass sward (predominantly perennial ryegrass) maintained at < 1500 kg D.M./ha (B), and one maintained at 2000 kg D.M./ha (C) from immediately after calving on 29 May until weaning on 22 September. Numbers of hinds in each treatment were 8, 6 and 9 respectively. Milk yields of hinds were estimated on swards A and C by the calf-suckling technique and hind and calf live-weight changes and hind grazing behaviour were recorded on all three swards during lactation.

Hinds on award C yielded on average 60% more milk over the lactation period than hinds on sward A, day 40 yields being 2·2 and 1·5 kg/day respectively. Calf growth rates (treatment A, 257 ± 9·5, B, 324 ± 12·1 and C, 369 ± 14·5 g/day) were higher on the improved species sward than on the hill sward and higher on the improved sward with the greater herbage mass. On treatments A and C calf growth rates were significantly (P < 0·05, r = 0·69) correlated with milk yield throughout lactation. At weaning, calves on sward C were 7·5 and 4·5 kg heavier than those on swards A and B respectively. Biting rates were lower (33 v. 56 bites/min) and grazing times higher (11.7 v. 6.0 h) on sward A than swards B and C. The poorer performance of hinds and their calves on sward A was considered to be due to a lower quality of diet ingested, and to behavioural limitations on intake occurring when hinds graze indigenous swards of relatively high species diversity. These results are discussed in relation to the grazing behaviour of cattle and sheep on similar swards.

The significance of the results to red deer farming in the U.K. is briefly discussed.

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