The aim of this study was to examine the relationships between gestational nutrition, fetal ovarian development and offspring fertility in female sheep and to highlight the potential mechanisms underlying these relationships. Adult sheep (n = 79) were fed either a maintenance or 0.6 of maintenance plane of nutrition for the first 55 days of gestation and thereafter fed ad libitum. Fetuses were collected for analysis at days 55 and 75 of gestation. Female offspring were monitored from birth until 19 months of age. Effects of restricted nutrition were observed on maternal plasma concentrations of progesterone, creatinine, albumin and Ca2+ at day 55 and creatinine at day 75. Concentrations of metabolic factors and steroid hormones in day 75 fetal plasma were not affected by the restricted maternal plane of nutrition. At day 55 of gestation, fetal ovarian germ cell development was not affected by maternal plane of nutrition. At day 75 of gestation ovaries from fetuses whose dams were exposed to restricted nutrition contained more germ cells but had lower germ cell proliferation rates than controls. For female offspring at 8 months of age, the dams gestational plane of nutrition did not affect the onset of puberty, ovulation rate (OR) and antral follicle counts (AFC). At 19 months of age, ewes from dams exposed to the restricted plane of gestational nutrition had higher OR, AFC and progesterone concentrations while concentrations of FSH were lower. In conclusion, while effects on fertility per se are yet to be determined, a reduced maternal plane of gestational nutrition can improve indicators of fertility in female offspring.
Table 1. Breakdown of daily intake for maintenance diet and restricted diet (in parenthesis). Daily intake values for fibre, protein, fat and ME are based on dry matter intake. Daily intake for the restricted diet consisted of 0.6 x maintenance values