Effects of maternal age and offspring sex on milk yield, composition and calf growth of red deer (Cervus elaphus)


Differential maternal allocation theory states that mothers will invest more heavily in the offspring sex that will secure higher reproductive output. Senescence theory is concerned with the gradual deterioration of physiological function with age. We analysed the offspring sex‑dependent response of calf growth and milk traits to mother age in an Iberian population of captive red deer (Cervus elaphus) using a 22 year time series longitudinal data set. Previous studies revealed that there was little evidence for the differential allocation theory on milk traits and that most studies lacked proper control for confounding factors. Our results indicated that (i) calf growth was offspring male‑biased, negatively affected by mother age and positively influenced by mother weight and parity, and (ii) there was no support for differential allocation offspring sex‑dependence in milk traits (yield, energy density, fat, protein and lactose content). Our findings suggest that maternal allocation responds to offspring energy requirements, which are mainly driven by offspring body weight, and contingent on mother age and weight and previous maternal reproductive effort.

Refereed journal