The objective of this study was to characterize the estrous cycle of cows with similar proportions of Holstein genetics, similar genetic merit for milk production traits, but with good (Fert+) or poor (Fert-) genetic merit for fertility traits. A total of 37 lactating cows were enrolled on an 8-d CIDR-based protocol to synchronise estrus. 19 Fert+ and 12 Fert- cows that successfully ovulated a dominant follicle and established a corpus luteum underwent daily transrectal ultrasonography. Blood sampling was carried at 8 h intervals from d 0 to d 6 and from d 15 to ovulation, and once daily from d 7 to d 15. Blood samples were analysed for progesterone, estradiol, follicle stimulating hormone and luteinising hormone. Estrus behaviour was recorded using neck activity collars and mounting pads. Fert+ cows tended to have fewer (P = 0.07) follicular waves (2.2 vs. 2.7 waves) and had a shorter (P < 0.05) estrous cycle (21.0 vs. 25.1 d) than Fert- cows. There was no effect of genotype on day of first wave emergence or day of first wave dominant follicle peak diameter (all P > 0.05) but the peak diameter of the first wave dominant follicle tended to be larger (P = 0.08) in Fert- cows. During the first 13 d of the cycle, Fert+ cows developed a corpus luteum that was 16% larger (P = 0.08) than Fert- cows. Circulating progesterone concentrations were 34% greater (P < 0.001) in Fert+ than Fert- cows (5.15 vs. 3.84 ng/ml, respectively) from d 5 to d 13. During the final follicular wave, the interval from preovulatory follicle emergence to ovulation and the interval from preovulatory follicle dominance to ovulation were similar (P >0.05) in both genotypes. Maximum preovulatory follicle diameter was larger (P < 0.05) in Fert+ than Fert- cows (17.9 vs. 16.8 mm, respectively); however, circulating concentrations of oestradiol were not different (all P > 0.05) between genotypes. A greater proportion (P < 0.05) of Fert- cows ovulated to a silent heat than Fert+ cows (22% vs. 2%, respectively). Of cows that showed behavioural estrus Fert+ cows had 41% greater (P < 0.01) mean activity count; however, no difference (P > 0.05) was seen in mounting behaviour between genotypes. These results demonstrate for the first time that genetic merit for fertility has pronounced effects on corpus luteum development, progesterone concentration, preovulatory follicle diameter and behavioural estrus.
Animal & Bioscience
Animal & Grassland Research & Innovation Programme