Nutritional sub-fertility in the dairy cow: towards improved reproductive management through a better biological understanding: Special Issue (ISRP 2009 - Clermont-Ferrand)

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  • Nic Friggens, Denmark
  • C Disenhaus, Agrocampus Ouest UMR, France
  • H V Petit, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Denmark
  • Disease Mechanisms, -Markers and -Prevention
  • Department of Animal Health and Bioscience
There has been a significant decline in the reproductive performance of dairy cattle in recent decades. Cows, take longer time to return to the oestrus after calving, have poorer conception rates, and show fewer signs of oestrus. Achieving good reproductive performance is an increasing challenge for the dairy producer. In this study we focus on understanding the overall biological phenomena associated with nutritional sub-fertility rather than the underlying multiplicity of physiological interactions (already described in a number of recent studies). These phenomena are important because they represent the natural adaptations of the animal for dealing with variations in the nutritional environment. They can also be used to monitor and modulate reproductive performance on-farm. There is an underlying trade-off between two aspects of reproduction: investment in the viability of the current calf and investment in future offspring. As the investment in, and viability of, the current calf is related to maternal milk production, we can expect that level of milk production per se has effects on subsequent reproductive performance (investment in future offspring). Lactating cows have a lower proportion of viable embryos, which are of poorer quality, than do non-lactating cows. The same applies to high- compared to medium-genetic merit cows. Another important biological property is the adaptive use of body reserves in support of reproduction. Orchestrated endocrine changes in pregnancy and lactation facilitate the deposition of body lipid during pregnancy and mobilisation in early lactation. When the cow fails to accumulate the reserves she needs to safeguard reproduction she delays committing to further reproductive investment. But how does the cow ‘know' that she is failing in energy terms? We argue that the cow does this by ‘monitoring' both the body fat mobilisation and body fatness. Excessive body fat mobilisation indicates that current conditions are worse than expected. Body fatness indicates the future ability of the cow to safeguard her reproductive investment is compromised. Both delay further reproductive commitment. The relationship between reproductive performance and; milk production as an index of maternal investment, body fatness as an index of ability to safeguard reproductive investment, and body fat mobilisation as an index of the current nutritional environment - are examined. Nutritional strategies that seek to modulate body mobilisation and the endocrine environment by use of glucogenic and lipogenic diets, and the use of in-line progesterone profiles to monitor reproductive status are then discussed in this biological context
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1197-1213
Publication statusPublished - 2010

    Research areas

  • reproduction, milk production, body reserves, energy balance, trade-off

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