Absent or irregular ovarian cycles in lactating dairy cows are caused by failure to ovulate the dominant follicle at the appropriate time. The follicle then either regresses or develops into a cyst. This process can be triggered by a variety of metabolic and disease factors that act at the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to inhibit pulsatile LH secretion and the LH surge, and at the ovary to reduce follicular growth and oestradiol production. Cows of poor energy status have low circulating concentrations of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I). Predisposing factors include calving difficulties, inappropriate diet, reduced intake of dry matter and a high rate of body condition score loss. Various stressors predispose the follicle to cyst development by inhibiting the LH surge and ovulation; these include common infections, such as mastitis. Even when ovulation does occur, poor follicular development may result in production of an inadequate corpus luteum. The timing of the increase in progesterone in the early luteal phase (days 4-5) appears to be a key determinant of fertility, probably because it alters the secretory activity of the reproductive tract, thus influencing embryonic growth and interferon-tau production. A period of negative energy balance after calving can reduce fertility even though metabolic parameters have apparently improved at the time of service
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