Summary. Seasonal variations of reproductive ability have been demonstrated in male and female sheep and goats. For the female, there is a distinct breeding season. Whilst there are large breed differences in the duration of the sexual season, oestrous cycles generally start when daylength is decreasing and end when daylength is increasing. In some breeds, ovulation without oestrus occurs during the non-breeding season. Although males are able to mate all the year round, seasonal variations occur in the weight of the testis and seminal vesicles and in the fructose concentration of the seminal vesicles. Sexual behaviour and semen characteristics also show seasonal variations.
These seasonal variations in males and females are related to hormonal levels. FSH and LH concentrations in the pituitary are reduced to 50% during the non-breeding season. In the peripheral blood, LH concentrations vary throughout the year whilst prolactin concentrations follow the pattern of daylength. Steroid hormones and their feedback actions at the hypothalamo-pituitary axis play a role in the regulation of seasonal reproduction.
Three different ways are proposed to overcome these seasonal variations. (1) Males can be introduced into a flock of females before the onset of the breeding season. This leads to induction of ovulation and oestrus, although the first ovulation is frequently followed by a short luteal phase. Teasing does not necessitate contact or sight and is only effective after a period of isolation of the females from the males. (2) Oestrus and ovulation may be induced during the anoestrous period by hormonal treatments. Inducers of LH release have to be associated with a progestagen treatment; PMSG is still the most efficient inducer of LH release. Artificial insemination is useful in this context to avoid subfertility due to seasonal variations of the male. (3) The period of reproduction may be controlled by artificial light regimens. There is a photoinducible period in the circadian cycle of the ewe and it may soon be practical to breed out of season by timed exposure of ewes to short periods of light during the normal hours of darkness.
© 1981 Journals of Reproduction & Fertility Ltd