Annual cycle of liveweight and reproductive changes of farmed male fallow deer (Dama dama) and the effect of daily oral administration of melatonin in summer on the attainment of seasonal fertility

in Reproduction

Summary. Entire bucks (N = 7) exhibited pronounced liveweight gains over spring and summer months (October–February), to reach a peak mean weight of 59·8 kg, and rapid liveweight losses over the rutting period (April–May) with a minimum mean liveweight of 54·2 kg. Mean neck girth and serum testosterone levels increased during late summer (January–March) and peaked at 387 mm and 12 ng/ml respectively immediately before the onset of the rut (April). Thereafter both measures declined during winter and spring months (June–December). Bucks castrated prepubertally (N = 11) exhibited similar but less pronounced changes in mean liveweight and neck girth, in the absence of any change in testosterone secretion. Peak mean testicular diameter of entire bucks (39 mm) occurred immediately before the rut and was followed by testicular regression over winter and spring months (June–November), such that the testes attained their minimum mean size of 18 mm diameter in early summer (November). Motile spermatozoa were absent from ejaculates collected in summer (November 1983, 1984; January 1984). However, ejaculates collected pre-rut (late March), immediately post-rut (June) and in early spring (September) contained successively increasing numbers of motile spermatozoa.

A further 14 polled, entire bucks were given orally 5 mg (N = 7; Group A) or 20 mg (N = 7; Group B) melatonin at 15:30h daily from 1 December 1983 to 14 January 1984 (45 days). Seven control bucks (Group C) received vehicle ration only. The measurements taken for bucks in Groups A and B were not significantly different (P > 0·1) on any sampling date and the data for these 2 groups were pooled. Mean serum testosterone concentrations and mean ejaculate volume were not significantly different between melatonin-treated and control bucks on any sampling date, although other measures exhibited significant differences (P < 0·05) at various treatment or post-treatment dates: melatonin-treated bucks showed a transiently greater increase in neck muscle development during and immediately after treatment, a slight retardation of liveweight gain between 45 and 75 days after treatment, an earlier peak in maximum mean testicular diameter and an earlier onset of sperm presence in ejaculates.

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