Nutritional influences on reproduction in mature male sheep and goats

Graeme Martin, S.W. Walkden-Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Citations (Scopus)


Changes in the nutrition of mature rams and goat bucks lead to profound responses in testicular size and therefore the rate of production of spermatozoa. These effects are largely due to changes in the size of the seminiferous tubules and in the efficiency of spermatogenesis. With the exception of severe undernutrition, the effects on spermatogenic function are not accompanied by similar changes in endocrine function of the testes, as measured by the production of testosterone or inhibin. In rams, moderate changes in nutrition affect gonadotrophin secretion for only a few weeks, whereas testicular growth is affected for several months. In mature male goats during the non-breeding season, nutrition-induced testicular growth does not seem to be associated with a gonadotrophin response. Such observations have led us to develop the hypothesis that nutrition-driven testicular growth is at least partly independent of changes in gonadotrophin secretion. The energetic components of the diet, rather than the protein content, seem to be responsible for affecting gonadotrophin secretion in rams. The volatile fatty acids, and not glucose, are the active factors, although intracerebral insulin may also play a role. Where these substrates act and whether they are also involved in the ,gonadotrophin-independent pathways requires testing. In conclusion, nutritional signals exert powerful effects on the reproductive system of mature male ruminants, and the responses-are partly independent of changes in gonadotrophin secretion. In the gonads, the gametogenic tissue responds rapidly to changes in nutrition, but the endocrine compartments are less affected. Variations in the expression of the nutritional responses among sexes, breeds and species probably reflect variations in the role of this environmental factor as a modulator of reproductive function.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)437-449
JournalSociety of Reproduction and Fertility Supplement
VolumeSupplement 49
Publication statusPublished - 1995


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