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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Embryo mortality in beef cows: What can we do to prevent it?

item Geary, Thomas

Submitted to: Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: December 15, 2007
Publication Date: January 29, 2008
Citation: Geary, T.W. 2008. Embryo mortality in beef cows: What can we do to prevent it?. Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association Proceedings pp 79-90.

Interpretive Summary: There are no “silver bullets” for eliminating embryonic mortality in beef herds. This paper describes early pregnancy and some of the factors involved and likely causes of embryonic mortality in beef herds that will enable producers to limit its effect in their herds. The most important concept that producers need to understand is that anything that can affect early embryo divisions and growth will likely affect its synchrony with its maternal environment and decrease its ability to produce adequate signal in time for maternal recognition of pregnancy. Factors involved and discussed in this paper include genetic factors, nutritional factors, plant toxins, environmental stresses, the role of hormones, age and male fertility.

Technical Abstract: Mechanisms involved in pregnancy establishment and maintenance in cattle are complex. Approximately 95% of matings, regardless of whether they are by artificial insemination or natural service, result in fertilization. However, rarely do 70% of these matings result in a pregnancy that is maintained through gestation. The majority of pregnancy losses occur from fertilization until day 27 of gestation during the period defined as early embryonic mortality. Adequate progesterone concentrations during the preceding estrous cycle and during early pregnancy, along with proper nutrition are important for an ideal maternal environment. Inadequate energy, excess protein (especially rumen degradable protein), and both thermal and handling stress are able to cause early embryonic mortality by decreasing progesterone, increasing uterine prostaglandin release, decreasing uterine pH, and increasing blood urea nitrogen and ammonia. Understanding the role that managers can assume to control some of these variables should result in greater pregnancy establishment and maintenance as well as an economic return for their efforts.

Last Modified: 11/28/2015
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