The effect of plane of nutrition on the timing of the moult in cashmere goats was investigated. Three groups of mature does were individually offered food to supply 0·8 (L, no. = 14), 1·2 (M, no. = 14) or 20 (H, no. = 13) times their estimated maintenance energy requirements from mid December until mid May. Two other groups of goats which were shorn in mid January, were offered 1·2 times maintenance requirements from mid December until mid March when food levels were increased to either 1·6 M (SL, no. = 6) or ad libitum (SAL, no. = 6). In mid May mean live weights for treatments L, M, H, SL and SAL were 36·0, 41·5, 46·9, 33·0 and 43·1 kg (average s.e.d. = 2·27, P < 0·001).
The pattern of moult was described by changes in a subjectively assessed moult score, the proportion of follicles with brushes and staple length. The loss of brushes, indicating the start of the moult, began from the primary follicles on days 143, 131, 76, 150 and 129 (average s.e.d. = 13·5, P < 0001), and from the secondary follicles on days 141, 128, 104, 144 and 125 (average s.e.d. = 14·1, P = 0·053) for treatments L, M, H, SL and SAL respectively. The loss of brushes from primary and secondary follicles was completed on average, by days 194 and 206 of the experiment respectively, and there were no differences between treatments. Moult score and staple length data confirmed the conclusion that lowering the plane of nutrition delayed the start of the moult. No additional effect of fleece removal in the shorn treatments was observed.
Changes in circulating levels of plasma prolactin, thyroxine, tri-iodothyronine, insulin, insulin-like growth factor-1 and growth hormone were related to seasonal changes in daylength and plane of nutrition. Their rôle in the control of the moult is discussed.
Manipulation of the nutrition of cashmere goats in early spring has the potential to delay and increase the synchrony of fibre moult and to improve the efficiency of cashmere harvesting.