This study tested whether the effects of a short period of nutritional supplementation given to ewes during the luteal phase on follicle development and ovulation rate is associated with an increase in circulating concentrations of FSH, glucose or metabolic hormones. Oestrus was synchronised with two prostaglandin injections given 9 days apart and the supplement consisted of corn grain and soybean meal. Corriedale ewes with low body condition were randomly assigned to 2 groups: the control group (C; n = 10) received a maintenance diet while the short-term supplemented group (STS; n = 10) received double the maintenance diet over days 9 to 14 of the oestrous cycle (day 0 = ovulation). Ovaries were examined daily by ultrasound and blood was sampled three times a day during the inter-ovulatory interval for measuring reproductive and metabolic hormones. On days 9, 11 and 14 of the oestrous cycle, half of the ewes from each group (n = 5) were bled intensively to determine the concentrations of glucose, insulin, IGF-I and leptin. Plasma FSH, progesterone, oestradiol and androstenedione concentrations were similar among groups. Dietary supplementation increased plasma insulin concentrations from the first to the sixth day of supplementation and increased glucose concentrations on the third day, compared with control ewes. Plasma leptin concentrations were higher in STS ewes from the second to the fifth day of supplementation. The pattern of IGF-I concentrations was similar among groups. In STS ewes, the nutritional treatment prolonged the lifespan of the last non-ovulatory follicle, so fewer follicular waves developed during the cycle. In STS ewes, increased concentrations of glucose, insulin and leptin one day before ovulatory wave emergence were associated with increased numbers of follicles growing from 2 to 3 mm and with stimulation of the dominant follicle to grow for a longer period. We suggest that the mechanism by which short-term nutritional supplementation affects follicle development does not involve an increase in FSH concentrations, but may involve responses to increased concentrations of glucose, insulin and leptin, acting directly at the ovarian level. This effect is acute, since concentrations of all three substances decrease after reaching peak values on the third day of supplementation. The status of follicle development at the time of maximum concentrations of glucose and metabolic hormones may be one of the factors that determines whether ovulation rate increases or not.