Postpartum infertility is caused by four factors: general infertility, lack of uterine involution, short estrous cycles and anestrus. The general infertility component is common to any estrous cycle and reduces potential fertility by 20 to 30%. Incomplete uterine involution prevents fertilization during the first 20 d after calving but is not related to anestrus. Short estrous cycles prevent fertility during the first 40 d after calving by causing the cow to return to estrus before pregnancy recognition occurs. Anestrus is the major component of postpartum infertility and is affected by several minor factors: season, breed, parity, dystocia, presence of a bull, uterine palpation and carryover effects from the previous pregnancy as well as two major factors: suckling and nuhition. These major factors have direct effects on anestrus but also interact with one or more other factors to control postpartum anestrus. Physiological mechanisms associated with anestrus involve blockage of the GnRH “pulse generator” in the hypothalamus, but other pathways also must be involved because bypassing the pulse generator is not an effective treatment for all cows. The primary cause of anestrus probably is different for different stages of anestrus. The mediating mechanisms for anestrus are not involved with prolactin, oxytocin, the adrenal or direct neural input from the mammary gland but are at least partially involved with blood glucose and the endogenous opioid peptide system. Management options to decrease the impact of anestrus and infertility include: 1) restrict breeding season to 545 d; 2) manage nutrition so body condition score is 5 to 7 before calving; 3) minimize effects of dystocia and stimulate estrous activity with a sterile bull and estrous synchronization; and 4) judicious use of complete, partial or short-term weaning.
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