Department of Animal Science


Date of this Version



Biology of Reproduction, 2021, 104(6), 1360–1372 doi:10.1093/biolre/ioab044


Used by permission.


We hypothesized the manner that heifers achieve puberty may indicate their future reproductive longevity. Heifers with discontinued or delayed cyclicity during puberty attainment may have irregular reproductive cycles, anovulation, and infertility in their first breeding season contributing to a shorter reproductive lifespan. Therefore, plasma progesterone (P4) was measured from weaning to breeding on 611 heifers born 2012–2017 and four pubertal classifications were identified: (1) Early; P4 ≥ 1 ng/ml < March 12 with continued cyclicity, (2) Typical; P4 ≥ 1 ng/ml ≥ March 12 with continued cyclicity, (3) Start-Stop; P4 ≥ 1 ng/ml but discontinued cyclicity, and (4) Non-Cycling; no P4 ≥ 1 ng/ml. Historical herd records indicated that 25% of heifers achieved puberty prior to March 12th in the 10 years prior to the study. Start-Stop and Non-Cycling yearling heifers were lighter indicating reduced growth and reproductive maturity traits compared with Early/Typical heifers. In addition, Non-Cycling/Start-Stop heifers were less responsive to prostaglandin F2 alpha (PGF2α) to initiate estrous behavior and ovulation to be artificially inseminated. Non-Cycling heifers had fewer reproductive tract score-5 and reduced numbers of calves born in the first 21-days-ofcalving during their first breeding season. Within the Start-Stop classification, 50% of heifers reinitiated cyclicity with growth traits and reproductive parameters that were similar to heifers in the Early/Typical classification while those that remained non-cyclic were more similar to heifers in the Non-Cycling group. Thus, heifers with discontinued cyclicity or no cyclicity during puberty attainment had delayed reproductive maturity resulting in subfertility and potentially a shorter reproductive lifespan.