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Declining fertility in dairy cattle: changes in traditional and endocrine parameters of fertility

  • M. D. Royal (a1), A. O. Darwash (a1), A. P. F. Flint (a1), R. Webb (a1), J. A. Woolliams (a2) and G. E. Lamming (a1)...

Reproductive performance of 714 Holstein Friesian dairy cows was monitored between October 1995 and June 1998 using thrice weekly milk progesterone determinations. Defined endocrine parameters such as interval to post-partum commencement of luteal activity, inter-ovulatory interval and length of luteal and inter-luteal intervals were used with a number of traditional measures of reproductive performance to investigate the current status of fertility in a sample of United Kingdom dairy herds. A comparison of the results of the 1995 to 1998 trial with those of a previous (1975 to 1982) milk progesterone database, which included 2503 lactations in British Friesian cows monitored using a similar milk sampling protocol, revealed a decline infertility between these periods.

Between 1975-1982 and 1995-1998, pregnancy rate to first service declined from 55·6% to 39·7% (P < 0·001), at a derived average rate approaching 1% per year. This decline was associated with an increase (P < 0·001) in the proportion of animals with one or more atypical ovarian hormone patterns from 32% to 44%. There was a significant (P < 0·001) increase in the incidence of delayed luteolysis during the first cycle post partum (delayed luteolysis type I; 7·3% to 18·2%) and during subsequent cycles (delayed luteolysis type II; 6·4% to 16·8%), although the incidence of prolonged anovulation post partům (delayed ovulation type I; 10·9% to 12·9%) and prolonged inter-luteal intervals (delayed ovulation type II; 12·9% to 10·6%) did not alter significantly. These changes resulted in an increase in mean luteal phase length from 12·9 (s.e. 0·09) to 14·8 (s.e. 0·17) days and an increase in inter-ovulatory interval from 20·2 (s.e. 0·1) to 22·3 (s.e. 0·2) days. The decline infertility was also reflected in traditional measures of fertility since although interval to first service remained relatively unchanged (74·0 (s.e. 0·4) to 77·6 (s.e. 1·1) days) calving interval lengthened from 370 (s.e. 2·2) to 390 (s.e. 2·5) days. Collectively these changes may have contributed to the decline in pregnancy rates observed over the last 20 years.

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