Nutrition may affect the balance between immunity and traits such as reproduction or growth. This study examines the effect of low nutrient availability on immunity indices and lactation in captive Iberian red deer. Twelve hinds and their calves were allotted to a food-restricted (50–60% daily energy requirements) or a control group just after calving. Low calorie intake exerted a greater effect on the immunity of calves than on that of hinds. Whereas no difference was found for hinds, calves of the low intake group showed mean immunoglobulin (Ig) levels higher than those on a standard diet, which suggests that Ig level may indicate the level of fighting against pathogens. Serum indices of body condition in calves showed generally positive correlations with milk nutrient production. In contrast, Ig level within each group showed a pattern inverse to that of the other group for early lactation: in the standard diet group, the greater the milk nutrient produced and calf growth, the lower the Ig level; this relationship was inversed in the low-nutrition group. These results suggest that, on a standard diet, high Ig levels may indicate high levels of pathogen fighting paired to poorer body condition. Inversely, once the first barriers of innate immunity are surpassed, only those calves on the low-nutrition group with greater resources would be able to spend more resources to fight infection. Thus, low calorie intake might boost its slowing effect on growth by increasing the costs of infection fighting.
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