The effect of melatonin implants administered to cashmere goats in the winter, on plasma prolactin, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) concentrations and the timing of the spring moult, was studied with the objective of identifying a method of manipulating the timing of the spring moult and increasing fibre harvesting efficiency. The effect of similar melatonin implants on prolactin concentration when administered in the increasing daylength of spring, was also measured.
In the first experiment, using 20 juvenile and 20 adult female cashmere goats, half the animals of each group received continuous release implants of melatonin (18 mg) on 11 December, 1 February and 1 April. In the adult goats the treatment significantly advanced by 7 weeks the time at which peak plasma prolactin concentrations were attained (P < 0·001) and advanced the onset (P < 0·001) of the peak. The treatment also resulted in an advance of the spring moult of cashmere in the adult goats (P < 0·01) and in an earlier initiation (P < 0·01) of the growth of both guard hair and cashmere as judged by histological examination of primary and secondary hair follicles. In the juvenile goats there were no significant effects of melatonin administration on plasma prolactin concentrations, the timing of the moult, or on any of the histological measurements compared with the controls. There were no significant effects on live weight or circulating concentrations of T3 and T4 in either age group. In the second experiment, the administration of one melatonin implant (18 mg) to three adult goats on 1 April caused a significant reduction in plasma prolactin concentrations (P < 0·05) over a period of 3 weeks compared with concentrations observed in four untreated goats.
It is concluded that treatment with melatonin implants is effective in modifying the timing of the seasonal cycle in prolactin secretion in adult cashmere goats and causing corresponding changes in hair follicle activity. However, since the treatment initiated in December caused an advance rather than a delay in the normal spring rise in plasma prolactin concentrations, it is evident that the repeated melatonin implant protocol used in this experiment cannot be used to delay the onset of the spring moult and thus facilitate the harvesting of cashmere.