A model of the growth, pregnancy and lactation of red deer was developed for incorporation into a whole-farm systems model in order to improve the understanding of venison supply systems. The model estimates the level of metabolic demand for a deer, which depends on the maximum capacity of its tissues to use energy. A function that takes account of satiation signals and rumen capacity is used to convert the metabolic demand into an estimate of the deer's forage intake demand, which can be used as an input into a foraging model. The actual energy intake of the deer is subsequently used to predict live weight (LW), body condition score, foetal growth and gestation length in pregnant hinds, and milk yield in lactating hinds. In order to make these predictions, the model requires inputs that include values for mean daily temperature, mean daily wind speed, day length and season, as well as pasture quality. Values for model parameters were obtained from the literature, rather than by fitting to data, and model predictions were then compared with measurements obtained in independent trials.
In simulations, the model predicted that 152-day-old stags and hinds, weighing, respectively, 44 and 48 kg, would grow to, respectively, 106 and 90 kg when 517 days old, compared with trial results of, respectively, 103 and 84 kg. Predictions for the weight of pregnant hinds, gestation length and calf birth weight compared well with an experiment for hinds on a high plane of nutrition but poorly for hinds on medium and low planes. Weekly predictions of hind LWs for days 132–230 of pregnancy had respective residual means of 0·08, 6·2 and 8·5 kg, and respective residual standard deviations of 1·33, 4·6 and 5·2 kg for the high, medium and low nutritional planes. Predicted gestation length for high, medium and low planes of nutrition were, respectively, 231·5, 238·0 and 242·0 days compared with experimental values of, respectively, 231·3, 234·7 and 239·2 days, while predicted birth weights were, respectively, 8·5, 8·3 and 8·9 kg compared with measured values of, respectively, 8·4, 9·5 and 9·3 kg. Predicted calf growth from birth to 14 weeks agreed well with data (residual mean and standard deviation being 0·04 and 1·15 kg, respectively).
The existing software structure of the whole-farm model dictated that the deer model use the Euler method with a fixed, daily time step. Therefore, the model was constructed using difference (rather than differential) equations and used a traditional, energy-balance method for predicting growth. This empirical approach tacitly imposed a standard body composition and standard metabolic rate for adults, with values corresponding to well-fed deer. This does not cater for variation in body composition and metabolic activity, and in retrospect, caused the model to perform poorly for the medium and low nutritional regimes.