The growth of male red deer slows during the first winter of life before increasing again during spring. This study aimed to determine if this period of slow growth could be minimized using artificial photoperiods during autumn and winter (10 April (week 1) to 11 September (week 23), southern hemisphere). Four groups of deer (no. = 10) were housed indoors as follows. Two groups were placed on a winter solstice photoperiod (8·5 light (L): 15·5 dark (D)) and given either a natural increase in photoperiod to 11·25L: 12·75D (WSN) or held on 8·5L: 15·5D for 7 weeks followed by an abrupt increase to 11·25L: 12·75D (WSH). One group was exposed to a summer solstice photoperiod of 16L: 8D (SS) and one group exposed to a natural photoperiodic pattern (IC). A fifth group of deer (no. = 10) was maintained outside on a gravelled enclosure under natural changes in photoperiod (OC). All groups were given a diet containing 160 g protein per kg and 11·0 MJ metabolizable energy per kg dry matter (DM) ad libitum. All animals were weighed weekly and group food intake recorded daily. Metatarsal length was measured at weeks 3,17 and 22 from the start of treatments.
The major differences occurred between SS and the other groups. After a period of slower growth (weeks 1 to 5, SS = 88 g/day v. 168 g/day other groups, s.e.d. 31·2, P < 0·05), SS grew more rapidly from week 10 (P < 0·01). As a result, SS was heaviest from week 17 (P < 0·05) until the end of the experiment (P < 0·01). The mean growth rate of SS animals from weeks 10 to 23 was 346 g/day compared with 173 g/day (s.e.d. 15·3; P < 0·001) for the other groups. Over the whole experiment, SS animals gained 42·3 kg live weight, compared with 31·1 kg for WSN, 26·6 kg for WSH, 25·1 kg for OC and 23·7 kg for IC (s.e.d. 2·08 kg P < 0·01). The DM intake of SS from week 9 until the end of the experiment averaged 2·04 kg DM per head per day compared with 1·48 (s.e. 0·041) kg DM per head per day for the mean of the other groups. Metatarsal length increased more in SS than the other groups (P < 0·001) between weeks 3 and 17 and was longest in SS at weeks 17 and 22 (P < 0·01). Exposure to a 16L: 8D photoperiod during winter advanced the rapid growth of red deer calves normally associated with spring and summer. This response may be used to advance slaughter dates for venison production.