The breeding season in temperate species of deer is characterized by the rut, a period of intense sexual activity when the male eats very little and competes for access to females. Males have been reported as losing proportionately up to 0·30 of live weight over a 6- to 8- week period. The majority of the live-weight loss is accounted for in loss of depot fat, with smaller losses in muscle reserves. The effects of body composition, hormone status and season on these changes in fat and muscle reserves were examined in mature fallow bucks (Dama dama).
The experiment was conducted in two stages, the ‘rut’ (February to May), and ‘spring’ (June to November). For the ‘rut’ period, bucks were randomly allocated to either ad libitum feeding, entire (HiEnt), matched group feeding, castrated (CAST), or entire bucks restricted to 7·6 kg dry matter per week (LoEnt) treatment groups (no. =4, 4 and 6, respectively). Three bucks from each of the HiEnt and LoEnt groups were selected for the ‘spring’ period. Bucks were given food ad libitum until mid October, whereupon they were restricted to 2·5 kg dry matter per week for 4 weeks (SPRING). Group food intake and individual live weights were measured weekly throughout both, periods. Body composition was measured by computed tomography on five and three occasions during the ‘rut’ and ‘spring’ stages, respectively.
Comparisons of the relative losses of total fat and muscle relative to empty body weight (EBW) using the allometric model (y = aXb) revealed significant treatment differences. HiEnt bucks had a high relative rate of fat and a low rate of muscle mobilization (b = 5·23 and 0·38, respectively). Only the CAST group had lower (P < 0·1) b coefficient for fat than the HiEnt group at 2·79. The LoEnt group was the only group in which the b coefficient for muscle (at 1·07) was not significantly lower than 1·0. Visceral organ weight was lost at the same rate as EBW across all treatments. There was no net loss or gain of bone for any treatment group as the b coefficients were not significantly different from zero. Fat depots were analysed relative to the total fat depot using the allometric model. The HiEnt group displayed a pattern of fat mobilization whereby the external depots were mobilized at the greatest relative rate and the internal fat depots at the lowest rate (b coefficients were 1·86, 1·23 and 0·68 for the subcutaneous, intermuscular and internal fat depots, respectively). CAST and SPRING groups were not significantly different from HiEnt bucks in the relative mobilization of fat depots. All fat depots in the LoEnt group were mobilized at the same relative rate as total fat, as the b coefficients were not significantly different from 1·0.