The seasonality of reproduction in most mammals is dictated by photoperiod, temperature and nutrition. Melatonin, mainly synthesized in the pineal gland, is generally accepted as the active mediator of photoperiod responses including reproduction. While non-pregnant heifers and cows show continuous sexual activity and are therefore not seasonal breeders, it has been suggested that photo-periodicity may influence the appearance of puberty in heifers and the onset of parturition. Further, the light/dark ratio may influence endocrine patterns of gestation and a shorter light period correlates with the incidence of twin pregnancies. This review considers specific aspects of the effects of photoperiod and melatonin on reproduction in dairy cattle and discusses the clinical applications of melatonin.
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