Date of this Version
Genetic improvement in reproductive efficiency through selection is difficult because many reproductive traits are binomial and have low heritabilities. Before genetic markers can be generated for fertility in cows, greater characterization of reproductive phenotypes is needed to understand the components of the trait. The current study tested the hypotheses that: 1) breeds vary in postpartum interval to estrus (PPIE) and estrous cycle length, 2) a longer estrous cycle immediately before breeding increased pregnancy rates, and 3) a greater number of cycles before breeding increased conception rates. The postpartum interval to estrus, estrous cycle length, and number of cycles before breeding were examined in F1 cows (n = 519) obtained from mating Hereford, Angus, and MARC III cows to Hereford, Angus, Simmental, Limousin, Charolais, Gelbvieh, and Red Angus sires. Cows were classified as having 0, 1, 2, or 3 observed estrous cycles before breeding. All traits analyzed were adjusted to constant BCS. Sire breed of the cow influenced length of the PPIE and number of cycles before the start of breeding (P < 0.001). Simmental-sired cows had the shortest PPIE and greatest number of cycles before breeding, whereas Limousin-sired cows had the longest PPIE and least number of cycles before breeding. Cows with a greater number of cycles before breeding did not have greater conception rates than cows that had not exhibited standing estrus before breeding (P = 0.87). In cows that cycled before breeding, the length of the estrous cycle immediately before breeding was influenced by dam breed and BCS (P < 0.01). Cows out of Hereford dams had shorter estrous cycles than cows out of MARC III or Angus dams, and estrous cycle length increased as BCS increased. Conception rate decreased as length of the estrous cycle immediately before breeding increased (P = 0.05, −2.2% per d of cycle length). Therefore, previously anestrous cows were just as likely to conceive as cows that had cycled before breeding, and an increased number of observed estrous cycles before breeding did not increase conception rates. There may be an influence of the length of estrous cycle immediately before breeding on conception rates, possibly because a longer estrous cycle results in a persistent follicle with greater potential for a lower quality oocyte. Breed differences in PPIE and estrous cycle length suggest that there are genetic components to these traits.