Photoperiodic effects on dairy cattle: a review

J Dairy Sci. 2000 Apr;83(4):885-93. doi: 10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(00)74952-6.


Since the initial report in 1978 of galactopoietic effects of a photoperiod of 16 h of light:8 h of darkness, numerous studies have confirmed long-day stimulation of milk yield. The endocrine factor(s) responsible for increased milk yield, however, has eluded identification. Recent studies suggest that insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) may mediate the galactopoietic response to long day photoperiod. Indeed, long days increase IGF-I in heifers and lactating cows; in the latter case, the response preceded an increase in milk yield. In heifers and cows, the increase in IGF-I is independent of changes in circulating growth hormone. Melatonin feeding to mimic a short-day photoperiod suppressed the increase of IGF-I in heifers induced by long days. However, melatonin feeding had no effect on milk yield in cows. Despite lack of resolution of the endocrine mechanism, dairy producers are interested in how photoperiod management can be integrated with current practices throughout the lactation cycle. There is strong evidence that milk yield responses to long days persist through an entire lactation. Also, long days can be combined with bovine somatotropin (bST) to produce additive increases in milk yield. During the dry period, long days increase the periparturient surge of prolactin. However, relative to long days, short-day treatment during the dry period produces the largest magnitude of response in milk yield during the subsequent lactation. The response to short days during the dry period may be due to a priming effect on the photoperiodic response system. In summary, IGF-I has emerged as a possible mediator of the increase of milk yield in response to long-day photoperiod. Photoperiod can be combined effectively with other management techniques such as bST. Consideration of photoperiod management during the dry period is essential to maximize responses during the subsequent lactation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle / physiology*
  • Female
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / metabolism
  • Lactation / physiology
  • Melatonin / metabolism
  • Photoperiod*
  • Reproduction / physiology
  • Signal Transduction


  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I
  • Melatonin