Reproduction, Fertility and Development Reproduction, Fertility and Development Society
Vertebrate reproductive science and technology
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Embryo death in cattle: an update

M. G. Diskin A C , M. H. Parr A B and D. G. Morris A
+ Author Affliations
- Author Affliations

A Teagasc, Animal & Grassland and Innovation Research Centre, Mellows Campus, Athenry, Co. Galway, Ireland.

B School of Agriculture, Food Science & Veterinary Medicine, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.

C Corresponding author. Email: michael.diskin@teagasc.ie

Reproduction, Fertility and Development 24(1) 244-251 https://doi.org/10.1071/RD11914
Published: 6 December 2011

Abstract

For heifers, beef and moderate-yielding dairy cows, fertilisation generally exceeds 90%. In high-producing dairy cows, it may be lower and possibly more variable. The major component of embryo loss occurs before Day 16 following breeding, with emerging evidence of greater losses before Day 8 in high-producing dairy cows. Late embryo loss causes serious economic losses because it is often recognised too late to rebreed females. Systemic concentrations of progesterone during the cycles both preceding and following insemination affect embryo survival; too-high or too-low a concentration has been shown to be negatively associated with survival rate. Energy balance and dry matter intake during the 4 weeks after calving are critically important in determining conception rate when cows are inseminated 70 to 100 days after calving. More balanced breeding strategies with greater emphasis on fertility, feed intake and energy must be developed. Genetic variability for fertility traits can be exploited; genomic technology will not only provide scientists with an improved understanding of the underlying biological processes involved in fertilisation and the establishment of pregnancy, but could identify genes responsible for improved embryo survival. Their incorporation into breeding objectives would increase the rate of genetic progress for embryo survival. There is a range of easily adoptable management factors, under producer control, that can either directly increase embryo survival or ameliorate the consequences of low embryo survival rates. The correction of minor deficits in several areas can have a substantial overall effect on herd reproductive performance.

Additional keywords: cow, embryonic mortality, fertilisation, pregnancy, progesterone.


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