Extended lactation in high-yielding dairy cows. I. Effects on reproductive measurements
The objective of this prospective field study was to evaluate the effects of extending the lactation period on various reproductive measurements of high-yielding Holstein cows. On 40 d in milk (DIM), cows were gynecologically examined (transrectal palpation, sonography, vaginoscopy). Cows without signs of clinical endometritis were blocked by parity and were randomly allocated to 1 of 3 experimental groups with a voluntary waiting period (VWP) of 40, 120, and 180 d, respectively (G40, n = 135; G120, n = 141; G180, n = 139). Cows of G120 and G180 were reexamined at the end of the VWP. If natural estrus was detected within 46 d after the end of the VWP, an artificial insemination was performed. If no estrus was detected, the respective cows were synchronized by applying the classical Ovsynch protocol. We found no difference in the proportion of cows in which estrus was detected between 40 to 86 DIM or in the days to first estrus between the 3 groups. Estrus detection in this period was lower in cows with body condition score <3 on 90 DIM compared with body condition score ≥3 (61.5 vs. 76.0%) and in cows with high energy-corrected milk production (ECM) on 92 DIM [58.6 vs. 70.1%, for cows with higher and lower than the median (39.9 kg) ECM, respectively]. The proportion of cows that estrus was detected within 46 d after the VWP was greater in G120 (88.9%) and G180 (90.8%) compared with G40 (70.4%). These effects were more apparent in cows with high ECM. The rate of estrus detection and of becoming pregnant in this period was greater for G120 (hazard ratio = 2.2 and 1.6, respectively) and for G180 (hazard ratio = 2.4 and 1.8) compared with G40. Cows in both groups with extended lactation had greater overall first service conception rates (G120 = 48.9%; G180 = 49.6%) and a lower number of services per pregnant cow (G120 = 1.56 ± 0.1; G180 = 1.51 ± 0.1) compared with G40 (36.6%; 1.77 ± 0.1). We observed no difference in pregnancy loss or in the proportion of cows culled up to 305 d of lactation between the 3 groups. The number of Ovsynch protocols per 1,000,000 kg of ECM was reduced by 75% in G180 and by 74% in G120 compared with G40 (5.9 vs. 7.1 vs. 25.1). In conclusion, extending the lactation of dairy cows can improve main reproductive measurements in high-yielding cows.