We tested the hypothesis that supplementation with cracked maize during the last week of pregnancy would provide ewes with a substrate for glucose and enhance the synthesis of lactose and, consequently, their production of colostrum. Thirty single- and 30 twin-bearing ewes were fed lucerne hay and half of each group was supplemented daily with 0.75 kg per head cracked maize during the last week of pregnancy. Colostrum production and the endocrine patterns in the animals were investigated. Supplementation with maize more than doubled the mass of colostrum available at birth in unsupplemented ewes: 339 v. 145 g in single-bearing ewes and 536 v. 197 g in twin-bearing ewes (P < 0.001). The total colostrum produced in the 10 h after birth was also significantly increased by supplementation: 730 v. 475 g in single- bearing ewes and 1259 v. 631 g in twin-bearing ewes (P < 0.01). The colostrum in the supplemented ewes was also more liquid with a viscosity score of 5.8 compared with 5.7 and 4.5 in unsupplemented single- and twin-bearing ewes (P < 0.01). Supplemented ewes had higher concentrations of lactose in their colostrum at parturition (2.6% v. 1.8% in single-bearing ewes and 2.5% v. 1.4% in twin-bearing ewes; P < 0.01). The plasma concentrations of progesterone and growth hormone in supplemented ewes were lower, whereas those of IGF-I and insulin were higher, all consistent with a higher capacity to produce colostrum. It is concluded that a high-energy supplement, like maize, fed to ewes in the last week of gestation increases their capacity to produce colostrum for their lambs, particularly for ewes bearing twins.