Maternal feed allowance during pregnancy can affect the development of the ovine placenta and fetus. The impact of variations in feed allowance prior to as well as throughout pregnancy has received less attention. Ewes were offered 0.6 (R), 1.2 (C) or 1.8 (AL) maintenance requirements from 89 days before conception until day 133 of pregnancy. Ewes were euthanased on days 50, 92 and 133 of pregnancy. Ewe live weight and body condition score, maternal and fetal metabolic and hormonal profiles, fetal body dimensions and organ weights, and the number, weight and morphology of placentomes were measured. Maternal live weight and condition score were lower in R compared to AL ewes at all stages of pregnancy (P < 0.05). Plasma glucose and albumin concentrations of R ewes were significantly reduced (P < 0.05) at mid and late gestation, respectively. Placental components were generally unresponsive to long term variations in maternal feed allowance. However, placental weight was significantly (P < 0.05) correlated with fetal weight at days 50 (r = 0.59) and 133 (r = 0.69) of gestation. By late gestation growth-retarded singleton fetuses from R ewes were 19% lighter (P < 0.05), with reduced abdominal (9%) and thoracic (10%) girths (P<0.05) but of similar crown-rump length compared with fetuses from AL ewes. These differences were associated with significantly reduced IGF-I concentrations in fetal plasma (P < 0.05). In conclusion, maternal, placental and fetal adaptations to long established planes of variable maternal feed allowance were able to maintain fetal growth during early and mid-pregnancy while fetal growth restriction, associated with reduced fetal IGF-I levels, became apparent in late pregnancy.
- Fetal development