Reproductive efficiency in high yielding dairy cows has decreased over the past 50 years, despite significant gains in genetic selection for increased milk output. One possible reason for this decline has been a change in the nutritional intake to meet the increased energy and protein demands for higher milk production. Excess energy intake in sheep will lead to significant reductions in progesterone concentrations; the effects in cattle are not so clear. Nutrition, unless radically changed, will have little effect on gonadotropin concentrations in ruminants, and this is in contrast to the situation for pigs and for primates, where very short-term nutritional changes manifest themselves in altered gonadotropin secretion. Cattle with reduced energy intake have smaller dominant follicles and more three-wave cycles, compared with animals on higher feed intakes. One of the main areas where nutrition influences reproductive efficiency is at the level of embryo production. Several studies indicate that excess energy intake reduces the response to superovulation and also decrease the yield of embryos and alters expression of some gene constructs within the developing embryo. The mechanism of this effect is not clear but indications are that the quality of the oocytes may be compromised. Indeed recent data indicate that nutritional changes around the time of mating may have detrimental effects on the establishment of pregnancy in heifers. Thus, nutritional balancing is critical for high-yielding dairy cows, in particular. The challenge remains to modify nutritional and management strategies in such cows to maintain the levels of production made possible by genetic selection and still maintain an acceptable level of fertility.
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