The ovaries of 18 post-partum beef suckler cows were examined daily, using ultrasound, from Day 5 post partum until a normal oestrous cycle was completed. Periods of growth and regression of medium-sized (5-9 mm) follicles were identified before one medium follicle became dominant (single large follicle greater than or equal to 10 mm). The mean (+/- s.e.m.) number of days from parturition to detection of the first post-partum dominant follicle was 10.2 +/- 0.5. The first post-partum dominant follicle ovulated in 2/18 (11%) cows. The interval from calving to first ovulation (mean +/- s.e.m. = 35.9 +/- 3.3 days) was characterized by the growth and regression of a variable number (mean = 3.2 +/- 0.2; range 1-6) of dominant follicles. The maximum diameter of the dominant follicle increased as the cows approached first ovulation (P less than 0.05). Behavioural oestrus was not detected in 16/18 (89%) cows at first ovulation. Following first ovulation, the length of the subsequent cycle was short (mean = 9.7 +/- 0.5 days; range 8-15 days) in 14/18 (78%) cows and was characterized by the development and ovulation of a single dominant follicle. During oestrous cycles of normal length (mean = 20.6 +/- 0.5 days; range 18-23 days) one (N = 2), two (N = 7) or three (N = 8) dominant follicles were identified. The growth rate, maximum diameter or persistence of non-ovulatory dominant follicles before first ovulation or during oestrous cycles were not different (P greater than 0.05). These data show that, in beef suckler cows, follicular development and formation of a dominant follicle occur early after parturition and the incidence of ovulation of the first dominant follicle is low. The number of dominant follicles that develop before first ovulation is variable; first ovulation is rarely associated with oestrus and short cycles are common after first ovulation. It is concluded that prolonged anoestrus in post-partum beef suckler cows is due to lack of ovulation of a dominant follicle rather than delayed development of dominant follicles.
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