Genetic control of reproduction in dairy cows under grazing conditions
Fertility performance is a key driver of the efficiency and profitability of seasonal-calving pasture-based systems of milk production. Since the 1990’s and early 2000’s, most countries have placed varying levels of emphasis on fertility and survivability traits, and phenotypic performance has started to improve. In recent years, the underlying physiological mechanisms responsible for good or poor phenotypic fertility have started to be unravelled. It is apparent that poor genetic merit for fertility traits is associated with multiple defects across a range of organs and tissues that are antagonistic to achieving satisfactory fertility performance. The principal defects include excessive mobilisation of body condition score (BCS), unfavourable metabolic status, delayed resumption of cyclicity, increased incidence of endometritis, dysfunctional estrous expression, and inadequate luteal phase progesterone concentrations. At a tissue level, coordinated changes in gene expression in different tissues have been observed to orchestrate more favourable BCS, uterine environment and corpus luteum function. Interestingly, cows with poor genetic merit for fertility traits have up-regulated inflammation and immune response pathways in multiple tissues. Sire genetic merit for daughter fertility traits is improving rapidly in the dairy breeds, especially in the predominant Holstein and Friesian breeds. With advances in animal breeding, especially genomic technologies to identify superior sires, genetic merit for fertility traits can be improved much more quickly than they initially declined.
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