Elk x red deer `hybrids` or technically, crossbreds make a major contribution to New Zealand venison production. Probably over half of the venison produced from young animals (< 2 yrs of age) contains some proportion of elk genes. Elk, and the numerically more significant ‘hybrid’ (50-88% elk), stags are used as terminal sires over red deer hinds to produce faster growing progeny. The main benefit of the faster liveweight gain is that a high proportion of hybrids reach slaughter live weight (100 kg+) at around 1 year of age to capture current market premiums. Due to the lesser sexual dimorphism of elk than red deer, hybrid females show a greater increase in liveweight gain and weight-for-age over their red deer counterparts than do males. Most of the advantage in yearling weight of hybrids has accrued by weaning and is, thus, captured by the breeder. The absolute and proportional increase in liveweight of hybrids is greater when live weight gain is high (in autumn and spring and under generous feeding levels) and production systems utilising hybrids must recognise this. The metabolisable energy (ME) requirement for maintenance per unit metabolic weight seems to be higher (20%) for young hybrids than for red deer, although in contrast, the ME cost of liveweight gain may be slightly lower. Small differences in body composition also exist. However, neither of these necessitates major modification to venison production systems. The widespread use of `hybrid` stags in the New Zealand deer industry has increased the biological efficiency and economic returns to venison production, although increased liveweight gain and weight-for-age must be offset against a somewhat lower reproductive rate in red deer hinds joined with elk or hybrid stags. Hybridisation has also increased the demand for red deer replacement hinds and raised doubts about the wisdom of retaining hybrid hinds as breeding females.
Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production, Volume 63, Queenstown, 222-228, 2003
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