Effect of milking interval on milk secretion and mammary tight junction permeability in dairy ewes

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Twenty-four lactating ewes (Manchega, n = 12; Lacaune, n = 12) in mid lactation were used to assess the short-term effects of different machine milking intervals (4, 8, 12, 16, 20, and 24 h) on milk yield, milk composition, and tight junction (TJ) permeability of mammary epithelia. Milk samples were analyzed for chemical composition, somatic cell count (SCC), and plasmin activity. Plasma lactose, and milk Na and K concentrations were used as indicators of TJ permeability. Milk accumulated linearly for up to 24 h, showing a different rate according to the milk yield of the breed (Manchega, 38 mL/h; Lacaune, 87 mL/h). Milking interval affected milk fat content, which decreased markedly from 4 to 24 h in both breeds, but no differences were observed in milk protein content. The milk contents of casein, true protein, lactose, and total solids also varied according to milking interval. Values of SCC did not vary by breed (175 × 103 cells/mL, on average), showing the lowest log10 values for the 4-and 24-h milking intervals in both breeds. Plasmin activity in milk increased with milking interval until 20 h of udder filling in both breeds, and was poorly but positively correlated with SCC content (r = 0.39). Plasma lactose increased dramatically after 20 h of milk accumulation, indicating enhanced permeability of mammary TJ. As a result, an increase in Na concentration and in the Na: K ratio, and a decrease in K concentration, were observed in the milk of Manchega ewes. On the contrary, no differences in Na and K concentrations in milk were detected in Lacaune ewes. In conclusion, our results proved that Manchega and Lacaune dairy sheep could maintain high rates of milk secretion during extended milking intervals in the short term, with no effects on udder health and few negative effects on milk yield. Increased TJ permeability, caused by the effect of udder filling, induced changes in milk composition that were more marked in Manchega than in Lacaune ewes. © American Dairy Science Association, 2008.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2610-2619
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2008


  • Dairy sheep
  • Milk production
  • Milking frequency
  • Tight junction


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