Responses to melatonin of 2 breeds of dairy ewes in early lactation under autumn photoperiod conditions

A. Elhadi, A. A.K. Salama, X. Such, G. Caja*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


A total of 72 dairy ewes of 2 breeds (MN, Manchega, 72.4 ± 1.9 kg of body weight, n = 36; LC, Lacaune, 77.7 ± 2.3 kg of body weight; n = 36) were used to evaluate the lactational effects of melatonin implants in early lactation and under the short-day photoperiod conditions of autumn (experiment was centered on the winter solstice). Ewes lambed in autumn and were penned indoors in 12 balanced groups of 6 ewes by breed, body weight, age, and number of lambs, and randomly assigned to a 2 × 2 × 3 factorial design (treatment × breed × replicate). Ewes suckled their lambs for 28 d. Treatments were (1) melatonin (MEL), which received 1 subcutaneous implant of melatonin (18 mg/ewe) in the ear base at 35 ± 1 d (1 wk after lamb weaning), and (2) control, which did not receive any treatment. Ewes were fed ad libitum a total mixed ration (forage:concentrate, 60:40) and machine milked twice daily. Daily milk yield was automatically recorded from d 29 to 105 of lactation and sampled every 2 wk for composition. Jugular blood was sampled for plasma hormone analyses at 30, 50, 80, 110, and 124 d of lactation. Body reserves were assessed every 2 wk. Feed intake was measured by pen during 3 separated periods after the start of the treatments (wk 2 to 3, wk 6 to 7, and wk 10 to 11). Feed intake, and milk yield and composition varied by breed, but no MEL effects were detected on dry matter intake, milk yield, milk composition, or fat and protein standardized milk in either breed. As a result of the unique composition of the implants and the variable body weights of the ewes, the MEL treatment dose (on average, 0.24 mg/kg of body weight) was 6.8% greater in the MN (lighter) than in the LC (heavier) ewes. Plasmatic melatonin markedly increased in the MEL-treated ewes (on average, 111%), but despite the amount of MEL used, the MN responded greatly compared with the LC ewes (150 vs. 63%, respectively). No differences in basal plasmatic melatonin were detected between breeds (6.4 ± 1.1 pg/mL, on average), indicating the greater responsiveness to the implants of the lighter MN ewes. Plasmatic prolactin tended to decrease in the MEL-treated ewes (−35%, on average), but the effect was significant only in the MN ewes (−54%), in agreement with their greater response to MEL. No effects of MEL treatment were detected on plasmatic IGF-I in either breed. Moreover, body reserves did not vary by effect of MEL treatment or breed throughout the experiment. In conclusion, the use of exogenous melatonin as MEL implants, together with the endogenous melatonin naturally produced under short-day photoperiod conditions, had no effects on the early-lactation performances of dairy sheep, despite their breed and level of production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2587-2596
Number of pages10
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022


  • dairy sheep
  • early lactation
  • melatonin
  • prolactin


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