Research-Article| Volume 72, ISSUE 3, P767-783, March 1989

Interrelationships Between Energy Balance and Postpartum Reproductive Function in Dairy Cattle

      This paper is only available as a PDF. To read, Please Download here.


      Genetic improvement of dairy cows has markedly increased milk yield over the last three decades. Increased production has been associated with reduced conception rates (66% in 1951 versus 40 to 50% since 1975). Because conception rate in dairy heifers has remained higher, the metabolic demands of higher production may be related to the decline in reproductive performance in cows. During early lactation, increasing dietary intake fails to keep pace with rising milk production. The resultant negative energy balance and rate of mobilization of body reserves appear directly related to the postpartum interval to first ovulation and lower conception rate. Delays in the onset of normal ovarian activity, thus limiting the number of estrous cycles before breeding, may account for the observed decrease in fertility. Negative energy balance probably acts similarly to undernutrition and may manifest in delayed ovarian activity by impinging on pulsatile secretion of LH. Lower availability of glucose and insulin may also decrease LH pulsatility or limit ovarian responsiveness to gonadotropins. Alternatively, release of endogenous opioids in association with increasing feed intake or other lactational hormone responses may provide neural or pituitary inhibition of the pulsatile LH production that is requisite for ovarian follicular development.


        • Allrich R.D.
        • Berghorn K.A.
        • Noller C.H.
        Influence of energy balance on ovarian activity and estrous behavior in postpartum dairy cows.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1987; 70 (Abstr.): 184
        • Baile C.A.
        • Della-Fera M.A.
        Nature of hunger and satiety control systems in ruminants.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1981; 64: 1140
        • Baile C.A.
        • McLaughlin C.L.
        • Della-Fera M.
        Role of cholecystekinin and opioid peptides in control of food intake.
        Physiol. Rev. 1986; 66: 172
        • Bhanot R.
        • Wilkinson M.
        The inhibitory effect of opiates on gonadotrophin secretion is dependent upon gonadal steroids.
        J. Endocrinol. 1984; 102: 133
        • Bicknell R.J.
        Endogenous opioid peptides and hypothalamic neuroendocrine neurones.
        J. Endocrinol. 1985; 107: 437
        • Blank M.S.
        • Fabbri A.
        • Catt K.J.
        • Dufau M.L.
        Inhibition of luteinizing hormone release by morphine and endogenous opiates in cultured pituitary cells.
        Endocrinology. 1986; 118: 2097
        • Butler W.R.
        • Everett R.W.
        • Coppock C.E.
        The relationships between energy balance, milk production and ovulation in postpartum Holstein cows.
        J. Anim. Sci. 1981; 53: 742
        • Carruthers T.D.
        • Hafs H.D.
        Suckling and four-times daily milking: influence on ovulation, estrus and serum luteinizing hormone, glucocorticoids and prolactin in postpartum Holsteins.
        J. Anim. Sci. 1980; 50: 919
        • Coppock C.E.
        • Noller C.H.
        • Wolfe S.A.
        Effect of forage-concentrate ratio in complete feeds fed ad libitum on energy intake in relation to requirements by dairy cows.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1974; 57: 1371
        • Davis J.M.
        • Lowy M.T.
        • Yim G.K.W.
        • Lamb D.R.
        • Malven P.V.
        Relationship between plasma concentrations of immunoreactive Beta-endorphin and food intake in rats.
        Peptides. 1983; 4: 79
        • Diez-Guerra F.J.
        • Augood S.
        • Emson P.C.
        • Dyer R.G.
        Morphine inhibits electrically stimulated noradrenaline release from slices of rat medial preoptic area.
        Neuroendocrinology. 1986; 43: 89
        • Doohoo T.R.
        • Martin S.W.
        Disease, production and culling in Holstein-Friesian cows. IV. Effects of disease on production.
        Prev. Vet. Med. 1984; 2: 775
        • Ducker M.J.
        • Haggett R.A.
        • Fisher W.J.
        • Morant S.V.
        • Bloomfield G.A.
        Nutrition and reproductive performance of dairy cattle. 1. The effect of level of feeding in late pregnancy and around the time of insemination on the reproductive performance of first lactation dairy heifers.
        Anim. Prod. 1985; 41: 1
        • Ducker M.J.
        • Morant S.V.
        Observations on the relationships between the nutrition, milk yield, live weight and reproductive performance of dairy cows.
        Anim. Prod. 1984; 38: 9
        • Dyer R.G.
        • Mansfield S.
        • Corbet H.
        • Dean A.D.P.
        Fasting impairs LH secretion in female rats by activating an inhibitory opioid pathway.
        J. Endocrinol. 1985; 105: 91
        • Easdon M.P.
        • Chesworth J.M.
        • Aboulela M.B.E.
        • Henderson G.D.
        The effect of undernutrition of beef cows on blood hormone and metabolite concentrations postpartum.
        Reprod. Nutr. Dev. 1985; 25: 113
        • El-Keraby F.
        • Schilling E.
        Effect of overfeeding of cows during late lactation on reproductive performance in the early postpartum period.
        in: Proc. 8th AI Int. Congr, Anim. Reprod. AI1976: 361
        • Eipper B.A.
        • Mains R.E.
        Structure and biosynthesis of pro-ACTH/endorphin and related peptides.
        Endocr. Rev. 1980; 1: 1
        • Erb H.N.
        • Smith R.D.
        • Oltenacu P.A.
        • Guard C.L.
        • Hillman R.B.
        • Powers P.A.
        • Smith M.C.
        • White M.E.
        Path model of reproductive disorders and performance, milk fever, mastitis, milk yield and culling in Holstein cows.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1985; 68: 3337
        • Everett R.W.
        • Bean B.
        Semen fertility–an evaluation system for artificial insemination sires, technicians, herds, and systematic fixed effects.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1986; 69: 1630
        • Fonseca F.A.
        • Britt J.H.
        • McDaniel B.T.
        • Wilk J.C.
        • Rakes A.H.
        Reproductive traits of Holsteins and Jerseys. Effects of age, milk yield, and clinical abnormalities on involution of cervix and uterus, ovulation, estrous cycles, detection of estrus, conception rate, and days open.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1983; 66: 1128
        • Foote R.H.
        Reproductive performance and problems in New York Dairy Herds.
        Cornell Univ. Agric. Exp. Stn. Search. 1978; 8: 1
        • Fronk T.J.
        • Schultz L.H.
        • Hardie A.R.
        Effect of dry period overconditioning on subsequent metabolic disorders and performance of dairy cows.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1980; 63: 1080
        • Gorewit R.C.
        Method for determining oxytocin concentrations in unextracted sera; characterization in lactating cattle.
        Proc. Soc. Exp. Biol. Med. 1979; 160: 80
        • Gwazdauskas F.C.
        • Whittier W.D.
        • Vinson W.E.
        • Pearson R.E.
        Evaluation of reproductive efficiency of dairy cattle with emphasis on timing of breeding.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1986; 69: 290
        • Hansen P.J.
        • Hauser E.R.
        Genotype X environmental interactions on reproductive traits of bovine females. III. Seasonal variation in postpartum reproduction as influenced by genotype, suckling and dietary regimen.
        J. Anim. Sci. 1983; 56: 1362
        • Hanzen C.H.
        Endocrine regulation of postpartum ovarian activity in cattle: a review.
        Reprod. Nutr. Dev. 1986; 26: 1219
        • Harrison L.M.
        • Randel R.D.
        Influence of insulin and energy intake on ovulation rate, luteinizing hormone and progesterone in beef heifers.
        J. Anim. Sci. 1986; 63: 1228
        • Hart I.C.
        • Bines J.A.
        • Morant S.V.
        • Ridley J.L.
        Endocrine control of energy metabolism in the cow: Comparison of the levels of hormones (prolactin, growth hormone, insulin and thyroxine) and metabolites in the plasma of high-and low-yielding cattle at various stages of lactation.
        J. Endocrinoi. 1978; 77: 333
        • Hawkins R.A.
        • Biebuyck J.F.
        Ketone bodies are selectively used by individual brain regions.
        Science. 1979; 205: 325
        • Henriksen J.
        • Jensen A.M.
        Studies on the endocrine and environmental factors influencing post partum acyclicity in dairy cows based on progesterone profiles (preliminary results).
        in: Ellendorff F. Eisaesser F. Endocrine causes of seasonal and lactational anestrus in farm animals. Martinus Nijhoff Publ., Boston, MA1985: 221-232
        • Herman H.A.
        Age-fertility relationships in cattle serviced by artificial insemination.
        in: Proc. 3rd Int. Congr, Anim. Reprod. AI1956: 56
        • Hillers J.K.
        • Senger P.L.
        • Darlington R.L.
        • Fleming W.N.
        Effects of production, season, age of cow, days dry, and days in milk on conception to first service in large commercial dairy herds.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1984; 67: 861
        • Imakawa K.
        • Day M.L.
        • Zalesky D.D.
        • Clutter A.
        • Kittok R.J.
        • Kinder J.E.
        Effects of 17beta-estradiol and diets varying in energy on secretion of luteinizing hormone in beef heifers.
        J. Anim. Sci. 1987; 64: 805
      1. Karg, H., and E. Schallenberger. 1982. Factors Influencing Fertility in the Postpartum Cow. Curt. Topics Vet. Med. Anita. Sci. Vol. 20. Martinus Nijhoff Publ., Boston, MA

        • Kasser T.R
        • Harris R.B.S.
        • Martin R.J.
        Level of satiety: fatty acid and glucose metabolism in three brain sites associated with feeding.
        Am. J. Physiol. 1985; 248: R447
        • Kesner J.S.
        • Kaufman J.
        • Wilson R.C.
        • Kuroda G.
        • Knobil E.
        The effect of morphine on the electrophysiological activity of the hypothalamic luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone pulse generator in the Rhesus monkey.
        Neuroendocrinology. 1986; 43: 686
      2. Kindahl, H., L. E. Edquist, K. Larsson, and A. Malmquist. 1982. Influence of prostaglandins on ovarian function postpartum. H. Karg and E. Schallenberger, ed. Factors influencing fertility in the postpartum cow. Gurr. Topics Vet. Med. Anim. Sci. 20:173.

        • Koenig J.I.
        • Meltzer H.Y.
        • Gudelsky G.A.
        Morphine or capsaicin administration alters the secretion of beta-endorphin into the hypophysial portal vasculature of the rat.
        Neuroendocrinology. 1986; 43: 611
        • Koprowski J.A.
        • Tucker H.A.
        Serum prolactin during various physiological states and its relationship to milk production in the bovine.
        Endocrinology. 1973; 92: 1480
        • Koprowski J.A.
        • Tucker H.A.
        Bovine serum growth hormone, corticoids and insulin during lactation.
        Endocrinology. 1973; 93: 645
      3. Lamming, G. E., A. R. Peters, G. M. Riley, and M. W. Fisher. 1982. Endocrine regulation of postpartum function. H. Karg and E. Schallenberger, ed. Factors influencing fertility in the postpartum cow. Curt. Topics Vet. Med. Anita. Sci. 20:148.

        • Lamming G.E.
        • Wathes D.C.
        • Peters A.R.
        Endocrine patterns of the post-pattum cow.
        J. Reprod. Fertil (Suppl.). 1981; 30: 155
        • MacCormack J.
        Fat cow syndrome and its complications.
        Vet. Med. Small Anim. Clin. 1987; 73: 1057
        • Malven P.V.
        Pathophysiology of the puerperium: definition of the problem.
        in: Proc. 10th Int. Congr, Anim. Reprod. AI1984: 1
        • Malven P.V.
        • Bossut D.F.B.
        • Dickman M.A.
        Naloxone antagonism of an opioid mechanism inhibitory to LH release in luteal phase ewes.
        in: Proc. 10th Int. Congr, Anim. Reprod. AI1984: 27
        • Marion G.G.
        • Gier H.T.
        Factors affecting bovine ovarian activity after parturition.
        J. Anim. Sci. 1968; 27: 1621
        • McCann J.P.
        • Hansel W.
        Relationships between insulin and glucose metabolism and pituitary-ovarian functions in fasted heifers.
        Biol. Reprod. 1986; 34: 630
        • Morrow D.A.
        The fat cow syndrome.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1976; 59: 1625
        • Morrow D.A.
        • Hillman D.
        • Dade A.W.
        • Kitchen H.
        Clinical investigation of a dairy herd with fat cow syndrome.
        J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 1979; 174: 161
        • Morrow D.A.
        • Tyrrell H.F.
        • Trimberger G.W.
        Effects of liberal concentrate feeding on reproduction in dairy cattle.
        J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 1969; 55: 1946
        • Moss G.E.
        • Parfet J.R.
        • Marvin C.A.
        • Allrich R.D.
        • Diekman M.A.
        Pituitary concentrations of gonadotropins and receptors for GnRH in suckled beef cows at various intervals after calving.
        J. Anim. Sci. 1985; 60: 285
        • Nash J.G.
        • Ball L.
        • Olsen J.D.
        Effects on reproductive performance of administration of GnRH to early postpartum dairy cows.
        J. Anim. Sci. 1980; 50: 1017
        • Peters A.R.
        • Lamming G.E.
        Endocrine changes in the postpartum period.
        in: Proc. 10th Int Congr, Anim. Reprod. AI1984: 17
        • Pfeiffer A.
        • Herz A.
        Endocine actions of opioids.
        Horm. Metab. Res. 1984; 16: 386
        • Pickett B.W.
        • Martig R.C.
        • Cowan W.A.
        Preservation of bovine spermatozoa at −79 and −196 °C.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1961; 44: 2089
        • Poretsky L.
        • Kalin M.F.
        The gonadotrophic function of insulin.
        Endocr. Rev. 1987; 8: 132
        • Reid I.M.
        Incidence and severity of fatty livers in dairy cows.
        Vet. Rec. 1980; 107: 281
        • Reid I.M.
        • Collins R.A.
        The pathology of postparturient fatty liver in high-yielding dairy cows.
        Invest. Clin. Pathol. 1980; 3: 231
        • Reid I.M.
        • Roberts C.J.
        Subclinical fatty liver in dairy cows – current research and future prospects.
        Ir. Vet. J. 1983; 37: 104
        • Reid I.M.
        • Roberts C.J.
        • Monston R.
        Reduced fertility associated with fatty liver in high yielding dairy cows.
        Vet. Sci. Commun. 1979; 3: 231
        • Roberts C.J.
        • Reid I.M.
        • Rowlands G.J.
        • Patterson A.
        A fat mobilization syndrome in dairy cows in early lactation.
        Vet. Rec. 1981; 108: 7
        • Ron M.
        • Bar-Anan R.
        • Wiggans G.R.
        Factors affecting conception rate of Israeli Holstein cattle.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1984; 67: 854
        • Rutter L.M.
        • Manns J.G.
        Hypoglycemia alters pulsatile luteinizing hormone secretion in the postpartum beef cow.
        J. Anim. Sci. 1987; 64: 479
        • Sandals W.C.D.
        • Cutis R.A.
        • Cote J.F.
        • Martin S.W.
        The effect of retained placenta and metritis complex on reproductive performance in dairy cattle – a case control study.
        Can. Vet. J. 1979; 20: 131
        • Schallenberger E.
        Gonadotrophins and ovarian steriods in cattle. III. Pulsatile changes of gonadotrophin concentrations in the jugular vein post partum.
        Acta Endocrinol. 1985; 109: 37
        • Schallenberger E.
        • Walters D.L.
        • Oschmann S.K.
        • Meyer H.H.D.
        Endocrine changes during the early postpartum period in dairy cattle.
        in: Proc. 10th Int. Congr, Anim. Reprod. AI, III1984: 9
        • Schallenberger E.
        • Walters D.L.
        Endocrine mechanisms contributing to postpartum anoestrus in dairy and beef cattle.
        in: Ellendorf F. Elsaesser F. Endocrine causes of seasonal farm animals. Martinus Nijhoff Publ., Boston, MA1985: 206-220
        • Schams D.
        • Schallenberger E.
        • Menzer Ch.
        • Stangl J.
        • Zottmeir K.
        • Hoffmann B.
        • Karg H.
        Profiles of LH, FSH and progesterone in postpartum dairy cows and their relationship to the commencement of cyclic functions.
        Theriogenology. 1978; 10: 453
        • Sejrsen K.
        • Neimann-Sorensen A.
        Nutritional physiology and feeding of the cow around parturition. Factors influencing fertility in the postpartum cow.
        Curr. Topics Vet. Med. Anim. Sci. 1982; 20: 325
        • Smidt D.
        • Farries E.
        The impact of lactational performance on post-partum fertility in dairy cows. Factors influencing fertility in the postpartum cow.
        Curr. Topics Vet. Med. Anim. Sci. 1982; 20: 358
        • Smith J.F.
        • Payne E.
        • Tewit H.R.
        • McGowan L.T.
        • Fairclough R.
        • Kilgour R.
        • Goold P.G.
        The effect of suckling upon the endocrine changes associated with anoestrous in identical twin dairy cows.
        J. Reprod. Fertil. (Suppl.). 1981; 30: 241
        • Smith R.D.
        • Hansel W.
        • Coppock C.E.
        Plasma growth hormone and insulin during early lactation in cows fed silage based diets.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1976; 59: 248
        • Smith R.D.
        • Perkins B.L.
        • Sniffen C.J.
        • Pearson E.G.
        Body condition and fatty liver in dairy cows – Is there a relationship with reproductive performance?.
        in: Proc. Cornell Nutr. Conf. Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY1983: 20
      4. Smith T. R. Dairy Herd Profile Summary and Analysis. 1986. Cornell Univ. Anita. Sci. Mimeo Ser. 90:27.

        • Spalding R.W.
        • Everett R.W.
        • Foote R.H.
        Fertility in New York artificially inseminated Holstein herds in dairy herd improvement.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1975; 58: 718
        • Stevenson J.S.
        • Britt J.H.
        Relationships among luteinizing hormone, estradiol, progesterone, glucocorticoids, milk yield, body weight and postpartum ovarian activity in Holstein cows.
        J. Anim. Sci. 1979; 48: 570
        • Stevenson J.S.
        • Call E.P.
        Influence of early estrus, ovulation, and insemination on fertility in postpartum Holstein cows.
        Theriogenology. 1983; 19: 367
        • Stevenson J.S.
        • Schmidt M.K.
        • Call E.P.
        Factors affecting reproductive performance of dairy cows first inseminated after five weeks postpartum.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1983; 66: 1148
        • Terqui M.
        • Chupin D.
        • Gauthier D.
        • Perez N.
        • Pelot J.
        • Mauleon P.
        Influence of management and nutrition on postpartum endocrine function and ovarian activity in cows. Factors influencing fertility in the postpartum cow.
        Curr. Topics Vet. Med. Anim. Sci. 1982; 20: 384
        • Thatcher W.W.
        • Wilcox C.J.
        Postpartum estrus as indicator of reproductive status in the dairy cow.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1973; 56: 608
        • Treacher R.J.
        • Reid I.M.
        • Roberts C.J.
        The effect of body condition at calving on the development of fatty liver and metabolic disease.
        Anim. Prod. 1981; 32: 363
        • Treacher R.J.
        • Reid I.M.
        • Roberts C.J.
        Effect of body condition at calving on the health and performance of dairy cows.
        Anim. Prod. 1986; 43: 1
        • Trimberger G.W.
        Conception rates in dairy cattle from services at various intervals after parturition.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1954; 37: 1042
        • van Houten M.
        • Posner B.I.
        • Kopriwa B.M.
        • Brawer J.R.
        Insulin-binding sites in the rat brain: in vivo localization to the circumventricular organs by quantitative radiography.
        Endocrinology. 1979; 105: 666
        • Whisnant C.S.
        • Kiser T.E.
        • Thompson F.N.
        • Hall J.B.
        Effect of nutrition on the LH response to calf removal and GnRH.
        Theriogenology. 1985; 24: 565
        • Whisnant C.S.
        • Kiser T.E.
        • Thompson F.N.
        • Barb C.R.
        Naloxone infusion increases pulsatile luteinizing hormone release in postpartum beef cows.
        Domest. Anim. Endocrinol. 1986; 3: 49
        • Whitmore H.L.
        • Tyler W.J.
        • Casida L.E.
        Effects of early postpartum breeding in dairy cattle.
        J. Anim. Sci. 1974; 38: 339
        • Wildman E.E.
        • Jones G.M.
        • Wagner P.E.
        • Boman R.L.
        • Troutt Jr., H.F.
        • Lesch T.N.
        A dairy cow condition scoring system and its relationship to selected production characteristics.
        J. Dairy Sci. 1982; 65: 495