Primiparous ewes (n=32) were assigned to dietary treatments in a 2×2 factorial arrangement to determine effects of nutrient restriction and melatonin supplementation on maternal and fetal pancreatic weight, digestive enzyme activity, concentration of insulin-containing clusters and plasma insulin concentrations. Treatments consisted of nutrient intake with 60% (RES) or 100% (ADQ) of requirements and melatonin supplementation at 0 (CON) or 5 mg/day (MEL). Treatments began on day 50 of gestation and continued until day 130. On day 130, blood was collected under general anesthesia from the uterine artery, uterine vein, umbilical artery and umbilical vein for plasma insulin analysis. Ewes were then euthanized and the pancreas removed from the ewe and fetus, trimmed of mesentery and fat, weighed and snap-frozen until enzyme analysis. In addition, samples of pancreatic tissue were fixed in 10% formalin solution for histological examination including quantitative characterization of size and distribution of insulin-containing cell clusters. Nutrient restriction decreased (P⩽0.001) maternal pancreatic mass (g) and α-amylase activity (U/g, kU/pancreas, U/kg BW). Ewes supplemented with melatonin had increased pancreatic mass (P=0.03) and α-amylase content (kU/pancreas and U/kg BW). Melatonin supplementation decreased (P=0.002) maternal pancreatic insulin-positive tissue area (relative to section of tissue), and size of the largest insulin-containing cell cluster (P=0.04). Nutrient restriction decreased pancreatic insulin-positive tissue area (P=0.03) and percent of large (32 001 to 512 000 µm2) and giant (⩾512 001 µm2) insulin-containing cell clusters (P=0.04) in the fetus. Insulin concentrations in plasma from the uterine vein, umbilical artery and umbilical vein were greater (P⩽0.01) in animals receiving 100% requirements. When comparing ewes to fetuses, ewes had a greater percentage of medium insulin-containing cell clusters (2001 to 32 000 µm2) while fetuses had more (P<0.001) pancreatic insulin-positive area (relative to section of tissue) and a greater percent of small, large and giant insulin-containing cell clusters (P⩽0.02). Larger insulin-containing clusters were observed in fetuses (P<0.001) compared with ewes. In summary, the maternal pancreas responded to nutrient restriction by decreasing pancreatic weight and activity of digestive enzymes while melatonin supplementation increased α-amylase content. Nutrient restriction decreased the number of pancreatic insulin-containing clusters in fetuses while melatonin supplementation did not influence insulin concentration. This indicated using melatonin as a therapeutic agent to mitigate reduced pancreatic function in the fetus due to maternal nutrient restriction may not be beneficial.