Dairy ewes (Prealpes breed) were subjected to differential photoperiod treatments: either long (15·5 light (L): 8·5 dark (D) or short (8·5 L: 15·5 D). Treatments started 15 days before lambing and continued until the 5th week of lactation. After lambing the 22 ewes of each photoperiodic treatment were divided in two groups and fed on either a high or low plane (19 v. 10·5 MJ/day and 370 v. 237 g crude protein per day). Milk yield was not affected by photoperiod but significantly modified by feeding levels (1154 v. 789 ml/day). Protein content of the milk was reduced under long days (—4·9 g/1) compared with short days, while no effect was observed for fat content. Body chemical composition changes, estimated by the deuterium oxide (heavy water) dilution technique between weeks 1 and 4, were affected by both treatments, with a significant interaction between photoperiod and diet for body protein changes: under short days lipid and protein changes were closely related while under long days they were independent.
Blood samples were taken on day 23 of lactation from six ewes per group, every 30 min from 07.30 to 15.30 h for growth hormone (GH) and prolactin (PRL) measurements. The timing of GH and PRL pulses were different, but there was evidence that secretory patterns of each hormone were synchronized across ewes within the four treatments. Long photoperiod increased plasma PRL baseline rather than pulse amplitude, with no effect of diet. Undernutrition mainly increased GH pulse amplitude rather than baseline concentration, with no significant effects of photoperiod.
High spontaneous concentrations of GH were associated with body lipid mobilization (R2 = 0·51) and were also involved in the control of protein changes (R2 = 0·71). These results indicate that GH (and PRL) are involved in nutrient partitioning in the lactating ewe.