Considerations for reproductive management of bos indicus-influenced beef heifers
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The Bos indicus species of beef cattle presents a number of unique reproductive challenges, especially with regard to those that influence reproductive efficiency including timely attainment of puberty, response to certain pharmaceutical drugs used to control estrus and ovulation, and response to physiological stressors. Cattle of this biological type comprise a substantial percentage of the beef cattle population in southern regions of the United States because of their ability to withstand high ambient temperatures and relative humidity. Additionally, Bos indicus cattle are regarded to exhibit increased parasite and disease resistance, resulting in improved production in subtropical climates as compared to Bos taurus cattle in those same regions. Research utilizing composite breeds of Bos taurus and Bos indicus beef heifers has been limited in the United States, and adoption of reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination and estrus synchronization has been sluggish compared to Bos taurus cattle in other regions of the country. To help answer a number of questions about this biological type, an experiment was designed to evaluate reproductive performance of Bos indicus-influenced heifers (n = 1,456). Weights and reproductive tract scores (RTS; Scale 1-5) were obtained for heifers prior to assignment of one of five treatments: Non-synchronized + natural service (NS); melengestrol acetate + natural service (MGA + NS; 0.5 mg∙animal-1∙d-1); 14-d controlled internal drug release + natural service (CIDR + NS; 1.38g progesterone); 14-d MGA-PG + fixed-time AI (FTAI); and 14-d CIDR-PG + FTAI. Heifers in the three NS treatments were exposed to fertile bulls for 65 d, beginning 10 d after progestin removal for CIDR + NS and MGA + NS groups. Heifers in FTAI treatments were administered PGF2α (PG; 25 mg, IM) 16 or 19 d following CIDR or MGA removal. Fixed-time AI was performed 66 and 72h after PG for CIDR-PG and MGA-PG treatments, respectively. Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH; 100μg, i.m.) was administered at FTAI. Estrus detection aids were applied at PG for heifers in FTAI treatments and evaluated at AI. Heifers in FTAI treatments were exposed to fertile bulls 12 d following FTAI. Blood samples were collected and ovarian ultrasounds performed at PG administration and FTAI to compare serum concentrations of estradiol and progesterone and to evaluate follicular dynamics among a subset of heifers assigned to FTAI treatments. Pregnancy status was determined at the end of a 65-d breeding period. Data were analyzed using PROC FREQ and GLIMMIX procedures of SAS. Mean concentrations of estradiol at AI differed between MGA- versus CIDR-treated heifers (P = 0.04; 8.2 versus 6.6 pg/ml), however estrous response after PG (52% versus 53%) and pregnancy rates after FTAI (40%) did not differ between MGA- and CIDR-PG treatments, respectively. Across all treatments, pregnancy rates were compared on 21, 30 and 60 d of the breeding period based on pubertal status (prepubertal RTS = 1 and 2; peripubertal RTS = 3; pubertal RTS = 4 and 5). Pregnancy rates differed at each time point based on pretreatment pubertal status (P ≤ 0.02) and weight (P ≤ 0.05). No differences were apparent with regard to progestin type at any time point, although higher pregnancy rates (P ≤ 0.004) were observed among NS treatments than FTAI followed by NS exposure at Days 30 and 60. This experiment is the largest comprehensive field trial conducted in the United States and reported in the literature involving Bos indicus-influenced beef heifers utilizing estrus synchronization prior to natural service or FTAI. This study reinforced results from previous studies, however raises a number of questions yet to be answered for heifers of this biological type. These data should be used as a basis for improvements in reproductive management of Bos indicus-influenced beef heifers prior to their first breeding season, and creates a number of possibilities for future research trials that build upon results reported in this thesis. Selection, management, and post-weaning to pre-breeding development of Bos indicus-influenced replacement beef heifers should involve the cooperative efforts of beef producers, veterinarians, and research scientists to further investigate methods to improve reproductive efficiency and genetic merit of these herds.