Seasonal differences in the resumption of postpartum ovarian activity, milk production and periparturient metabolic status were investigated in lactating non-suckling dairy Awassi sheep in two consecutive experiments. In Experiment 1, autumn-lambing (AL, n = 27) and spring-lambing (SL, n = 37) ewes were investigated. Ovarian activity was monitored by means of individual progesterone (P4) profiles from day 5 to day 100 post partum. Most of the AL dams (89%) ovulated till day 35 after parturition and became cyclic thereafter. Incidence of persistent corpus luteum (CLP) and short luteal phases (sCL) was frequent (18% and 29%, respectively) among non-conceiving dams. In contrast, only 24% of the SL ewes ovulated before day 35. P4 levels during the luteal phase were lower in cyclic animals, and the cycle was longer in SL than in AL animals. No CLP or sCL was detected in the spring-lambing group, and 61% of SL ewes remained acyclic till the end of the trial. Lactation length was significantly longer in SL dams than in AL ewes (P = 0.008). According to the plasma metabolites (BHB, NEFA) and metabolic hormones (insulin, IGF-I, thyroxine) examined, negative energy balance did not appear in any of the animals. However, seasonal differences were seen in IGF-I and thyroxine levels, which were higher in the SL dams. In Experiment 2, influence of additional lighting was studied in autumn-lambing ewes. The long-day photoperiod (LD, n = 23) group was exposed to artificial light from sunset till midnight (approx. 16 h light/8 h dark) from some weeks before the expected date of delivery in mid-September until the end of December. The control group (n = 25) experienced only natural daylength. The first postpartum ovulation tended to occur later in the LD animals than in the controls (P = 0.047). The lactation of the LD group tended to be longer (P = 0.061). NEFA, BHB, insulin, IGF-I and thyroxine levels did not differ between the groups. Conclusions: (i) The ovarian function of the Awassi population is seasonal under temperate continental climate conditions. (ii) The first postpartum ovulation of non-suckling, autumn-lambing dams may occur very early, even before the completion of uterine involution. (iii) Additional artificial lighting may delay the time of first postpartum ovulation in AL ewes. (iv) Postpartum negative energy balance is unlikely to occur in dairy Awassi ewes even in high-producing intensive systems.
- Ovarian activity
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