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G. W. Montgomery and H. Hawker

Summary. Romney and Perendale ewes were selected on the amplitude of seasonal wool growth. The ewes were fed a constant plane of nutrition and run with vasectomized rams. Ovarian activity was recorded by laparoscopy during 11 months. Ewes with a low amplitude of seasonal wool growth (Group L) had a 68% higher wool growth rate in winter and a 17% lower wool growth rate in summer compared with ewes with a high amplitude (Group H). There was no difference between the groups in the date of the first mating mark. Ewes in Group L entered anoestrus significantly later than did ewes in Group H; the difference was 11 days in the mean date of the last mating mark and 17 days in the mean date of the last ovulation. A significantly higher proportion of ewes in Group L ovulated during July to November. In addition, ewes in Group L had a significantly higher proportion of multiple ovulations throughout the experiment: on average the difference between the groups was 0·21. These results show that phenotypic selection for a low amplitude of seasonal wool growth resulted in a delay in the end of the breeding season associated with an increase in ovulation rate, suggesting independent effects on the beginning and end of the breeding season.

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G. W. Montgomery, G. B. Martin, and J. Pelletier

Summary. Two experiments were conducted in Ile-de-France ewes to study changes in pulsatile LH secretion in ewes ovariectomized during anoestrus or during the midluteal phase of the oestrous cycle. In Exp. 1, blood samples were taken every 20 min for 12 h the day before ovariectomy (Day 0). After ovariectomy, samples were taken every 10 min for 6 h (10 ewes per group), on Days 1, 3, 7 and 15. In Exp. 2 samples were taken every 10 min for 6 h (10 ewes per group) on Days 7,15,30,60,90,120,150 and 180 after ovariectomy. Further samples were taken (5 ewes per group) at 9 and 12 months after ovariectomy.

There were significant interactions between season and day of sampling for the interval between LH pulses in both experiments. LH pulse frequency increased within 1 day of ovariectomy and the increase was more rapid during the breeding season. There were clear seasonal differences in pulse frequency in Exp. 2. Compared with ewes ovariectomized in anoestrus, pulse frequency was significantly higher for ewes ovariectomized in the breeding season, from Day 7 until Day 120. Once pulse frequency had increased in ewes about the time of the normal breeding season, pulse frequency remained high and subsequent seasonal changes were greatly reduced.

Pulse amplitude increased immediately after ovariectomy to reach a maximum on Day 7 and there were no differences between season of ovariectomy in the initial changes in amplitude. In Exp. 2, changes in amplitude followed changes in pulse interval and there was a significant interaction between season and day of sampling. There were no significant effects of season on nadir LH concentrations which increased throughout the duration of the experiments.

These results show that, in ovariectomized ewes, LH pulse frequency observed on a given day depends on time after ovariectomy, season at the time of sampling and on previous exposure of ewes to stimulatory effects of season. The direct effects of season on LH pulse frequency and seasonal changes in sensitivity to steroid feedback may contribute to control of the breeding season and their relative contributions to the beginning and end of the breeding season may differ.

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G. W. Montgomery, G. B. Martin, J. Le Bars, and J. Pelletier

Summary. Three experiments were conducted to study changes in pulsatile secretion of LH and FSH during the breeding season or anoestrus in ovariectomized Ile-de-France ewes fed different amounts of the phyto-oestrogen coumestrol. In Exp. 1, conducted during the breeding season, ewes (3–4 per group) were fed lucerne supplying 4, 18 or 30 mg coumestrol per ewe per day for 15 days. Experiments 2 and 3 were conducted during seasonal anoestrus. In Exp. 2, ewes (4 per group) were fed lucerne supplying coumestrol concentrations ranging from 4 to 38 mg/ewe/day for 15 days. In Exp. 3, ewes (10 per group) were fed lucerne supplying 14 or 125 mg coumestrol/ewe/day for 15 days. During the breeding season, an increased concentration of coumestrol in the diet significantly decreased the amplitude of LH pulses. There were no effects on LH pulse frequency or on FSH concentrations. During seasonal anoestrus, there were no significant effects on LH pulse frequency, or amplitude and no significant effect on FSH concentration. These results show that high concentrations of coumestrol in lucerne diets would not explain seasonal variation in LH pulse frequency in ovariectomized ewes. However, lucerne diets with increased coumestrol concentrations can influence LH release during the breeding season.

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G. W. Montgomery, I. C. Scott, and Norma Hudson

Summary. Angus cows were first mated at ∼27 months of age in 2 herds, calving 21 July to 15 September (Group E) or 9 September to 30 October (Group L). The cows were fed a high (H) or medium (M) plane of nutrition for 55 days before and 40 days after calving.

There was a mean liveweight difference of 35 kg between cows in Groups EH + LH and Groups EM + LM immediately after calving and at 40 days after calving. Immediately after calving cows in Groups EH + EM were 11 kg heavier than cows in Groups LH + LM, but there was no difference at 40 days after calving. There was a significant interaction between calving time and nutrition in the return of cyclic ovarian function assessed from both interval to first oestrus and first elevated progesterone concentration. Mean intervals from calving to first oestrus were 66·7, 82·7, 56·7 and 62·3 days in Groups EH, EM, LH and LM respectively.

These data demonstrate that season of calving influences resumption of ovarian cycles even at a constant high plane of nutrition and that season of calving interacts with nutrition such that effects of season are more likely to be expressed under conditions of low nutrition.

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G. W. Montgomery, G. B. Martin, M. R. Blanc, and J. Pelletier

Summary. Ile-de-France ewes were ovariectomized during anoestrus or the mid-luteal phase of an oestrous cycle (day of ovariectomy = Day 0). In a short-term study, FSH concentrations were measured in blood samples collected hourly the day before and on Days 1, 3, 7 and 15 after ovariectomy (10 ewes per group). FSH concentrations increased significantly from 6·1 to 16·5 ng/ml within 1 day of ovariectomy and increased further to 47·1 ng/ml by Day 15. Differences between seasons of ovariectomy were not significant.

In a long-term study, FSH concentrations were measured in blood samples collected hourly on Days 7, 15, 30, 60,90, 120, 150 and 180 after ovariectomy in anoestrus or the breeding season (10 ewes per group). Further samples were taken (5 ewes/group) at 240 and 365 days after ovariectomy. The pattern of change in FSH after ovariectomy differed between the two seasons and the interaction between season and sampling day was significant. For ewes ovariectomized during anoestrus, FSH concentrations increased to a maximum by Day 180 and remained high thereafter. In contrast FSH increased more slowly in ewes ovariectomized in the breeding season and differences between the groups were significant from Day 90 to Day 270. However, both groups had similar FSH concentrations at Day 365.

These results show that FSH concentrations increase rapidly after ovariectomy. There are seasonal differences in FSH concentrations in the absence of ovarian feedback with increases in FSH concentration around the time of the onset of the breeding season. Once FSH concentrations had reached a maximum, major seasonal changes were no longer apparent.

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G. W. Montgomery, J. M. Penty, J. A. Sise, and H. M. Tou

Summary. Bovine cDNA probes for the β-subunit of follicle-stimulating hormone β (FSHβ) and the α-subunit of the glycoprotein hormones identify genetic variation (polymorphic restriction fragments) near these genes in sheep. The inheritance of the polymorphic restriction fragments was studied in half-sibling pedigrees generated by mating heterozygous (B+) rams to non-carrier (++) ewes so that the co-inheritance or genetic linkage to the Booroola (FecB) locus and the α- and β-subunits of FSH could be analysed. Genetic recombination was observed between the FSHβ locus and the FecB locus in all five families studied and between the α-subunit and the FecB locus in the two families studied. We conclude that the FecB mutation does not lie within the FSH β- or α-subunit genes encoding the heterodimeric hormone FSH, and that the high concentrations of FSH observed in carrier ewes must result from indirect actions of the FecB mutation on the synthesis, processing, storage, release or metabolism of FSH.

Keywords: FSHβ; α-subunit; FecB gene; sheep; Booroola; RFLP analysis; genetic linkage

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K. P. McNatty, D. A. Heath, K. M. Henderson, S. Lun, P. R. Hurst, L. M. Ellis, G. W. Montgomery, L. Morrison, and D. C. Thurley

Summary. The patterns of ovarian follicular development and the steroidogenic properties of individual follicles (≥2 mm diam.) were assessed in Angus cows from Day − 5 until Day + 1 of the oestrous cycle (oestrus = Day 0). Individual follicles were judged to be healthy or atretic using a new classification system incorporating assessments of thecal vascularity and colour, the number of granulosa cells, the presence or absence of debris in follicular fluid and the status of the oocyte.

The results suggest that the theca interna of small antral follicles (< 5 mm diam.) responds to LH and synthesizes androstenedione before the granulosa cells develop an appreciable ability to metabolize androgen to oestrogen. Regardless of follicle size, the output of thecal androstenedione per unit mass of tissue remained unchanged in healthy but not in atretic follicles. On a per cell basis, aromatase activity increased in granulosa cells from healthy but not from atretic follicles with increasing follicle size. Peak levels of aromatizing activity were consistently observed in dominant oestrogenenriched follicles on Day 0 although similar activity was also observed in some healthy follicles (≥8 mm diam.) on other days of the cycle. Early atresia in bovine follicles was characterized by an absence or lowering of aromatase activity in granulosa cells which always preceded any reduction in the thecal steroidogenic response to LH.

It was estimated that between 20 and 60 antral follicles (≥2 mm diam.) per cow may respond to LH by synthesizing androgen whereas only 1-3 follicles (>5 mm diam.) have granulosa cells capable of metabolizing androstenedione or testosterone to oestradiol.