The total number of ovarian follicles ≥ 3mm in diameter (antral follicle count, AFC) during follicular waves varies among cattle of similar age, but AFC is highly repeatable within individuals. We hypothesized that lower AFC could be associated with reduced fertility in cattle. The AFC was assessed by ultrasonography for 2 d consecutively during the first wave of follicular growth of the estrous cycle, 4.6±1.43 d (mean ± SD) after estrus, in 306 Holstein-Friesian dairy cows approximately 70 d postpartum. Cows were classified into 3 groups based on AFC: low (AFC ≤15), intermediate (AFC=16 to 24), and high (AFC ≥25). During the cycle in which AFC was assessed and in subsequent cycles, cows were artificially inseminated (AI) following detection of estrus, and pregnancy status was assessed using ultrasonography. Cows with high AFC had 3.34 times greater odds of being pregnant at the end of the breeding season compared with cows with low AFC; the odds of a successful pregnancy at first service were 1.75 times greater in the intermediate compared with the low group. The predicted probability of a successful pregnancy by the end of the breeding period (length of breeding season was 86±16.3 d) was 94, 88, and 84% for the high, intermediate, and low AFC groups, respectively. No difference was evident among groups in 21-d submission rate (proportion of all cows detected in estrus and submitted for AI in the first 21 d of the breeding season), but the interval from calving to conception was shorter in the high (109.5±5.1 d) versus low (117.1±4 d) group, and animals with intermediate AFC received fewer services during the breeding season (2.3±0.1) compared with animals with low AFC (2.7±0.1). Lactating cows with ≤15 ovarian follicles have lower reproductive performance compared with cows with higher numbers of follicles, but the existence of a positive association between high numbers of ovarian follicles and fertility is yet to be established.
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