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J Dairy Sci. 1989 Mar;72(3):767-83.

Interrelationships between energy balance and postpartum reproductive function in dairy cattle.

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Department of Animal Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.


Genetic improvement of dairy cows has markedly increased milk yield over the last three decades. Increased production has been associated with reduced conception rates (66% in 1951 versus 40 to 50% since 1975). Because conception rate in dairy heifers has remained higher, the metabolic demands of higher production may be related to the decline in reproductive performance in cows. During early lactation, increasing dietary intake fails to keep pace with rising milk production. The resultant negative energy balance and rate of mobilization of body reserves appear directly related to the postpartum interval to first ovulation and lower conception rate. Delays in the onset of normal ovarian activity, thus limiting the number of estrous cycles before breeding, may account for the observed decrease in fertility. Negative energy balance probably acts similarly to undernutrition and may manifest in delayed ovarian activity by impinging on pulsatile secretion of LH. Lower availability of glucose and insulin may also decrease LH pulsatility or limit ovarian responsiveness to gonadotropins. Alternatively, release of endogenous opioids in association with increasing feed intake or other lactational hormone responses may provide neural or pituitary inhibition of the pulsatile LH production that is requisite for ovarian follicular development.

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