British Journal of Nutrition

Research Article

The effect of overnourishing singleton-bearing adult ewes on nutrient partitioning to the gravid uterus

Jacqueline M. Wallacea1 c1, John S. Milnea1 and Raymond P. Aitkena1

a1 Rowett Research Institute, Bucksburn, Aberdeen AB21 9SB, UK


Overnourishing the singleton-bearing adolescent sheep throughout pregnancy promotes maternal tissue synthesis at the expense of the nutrient requirements of the gravid uterus. Consequently, the growth of the placenta is impaired and results in the premature delivery of low-birth-weight lambs relative to moderately fed adolescents of equivalent age. To establish if this phenomenon is unique to the growing animal, singleton pregnancies to a single sire were established by embryo transfer into primiparous adult ewes who had attained the normal mature body size for their genotype. Thereafter ewes were offered a maintenance or a high level of a complete diet throughout gestation. High maternal intakes resulted in elevated maternal insulin, no significant change in growth hormone or glucose, and attenuated progesterone and NEFA concentrations. Live weight gain during the first 93 d of gestation was 48 and 244 g/d, and adiposity score at term was 2·4 and 3·7 in the maintenance and high groups, respectively (P<0·001). In spite of achieving levels of adiposity similar to overnourished adolescents, placental (477 (sem 30) v. 518 (sem 41) g) and fetal (5190 (sem 320) v. 5420 (sem 250) g) weights were equivalent in maintenance and high groups. Gestation length was shorter (P<0·01) and colostrum yield at parturition lower (P<0·05) in high v. maintenance dams. Thus, adult sheep appear to be relatively insensitive to the oversupply of nutrients during pregnancy and have the ability to meet the nutrient requirements for normal conceptus growth in spite of their increased adiposity.

(Received October 20 2004)

(Revised November 17 2004)

(Accepted December 21 2004)


c1 *Corresponding author: Dr Jacqueline M. Wallace, fax +44 1224 716622, email