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Effects of Winter Housing, Exercise, and Dietary Treatments on the Behaviour and Welfare of Red Deer (Cervus Elaphus) Hinds

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To assess the welfare of red deer (Cervus elaphus) confined at pasture or in indoor housing over winter, behaviour, productivity, skin damage and adrenal response to ACTH challenge were measured in six groups of eight weaner hinds over 91 days from June to September 1990 in Otago, New Zealand. The hinds were confined either indoors (I), indoors with daily exercise (IE), or outdoors (O); (n = 2 groups to each treatment). All groups were fed concentrate ad libitum plus 100g lucerne head−1 day−1.

Indoor confinement was associated with a greater incidence of nosing/chewing other hinds, aggression, chewing of the enclosure, and closer distances between individuals, compared with outdoor confinement (P < 0.05). Ad libitum provision of hay over a 2-week period reduced the incidence of chewing of indoor enclosures (P < 0.01). Weight gain was greater for indoor groups than outdoor groups in August and September (P < 0.05) and overall weight gains for indoor groups (from two weeks into the study, until the end) were higher for the exercise treatment (P < 0.05). Intake of concentrates did not differ significantly between treatments. Skin damage was greater for indoor than outdoor groups (P < 0.05), and positively related to weight gain (P <0.01) and receiving aggression (P < 0.01), which in turn was negatively related to liveweight (P < 0.001). A negative relationship was found between pre-challenge levels of plasma cortisol and the number of aggressive interactions received (P < 0.05). Pre-challenge cortisol was greater for IE than I (P < 0.05), and the increase in cortisol post-challenge was greater for outdoor groups than indoor groups (P < 0.01). Conclusions were that indoor confinement had a positive effect on weight gain, but increased aggression and skin damage, indicating that the deer were compromised socially. Provision of ample forage reduced chewing of the walls. The slightly greater weight gain in IE compared with I deserves further investigation.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1998-02-01

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