Effect of age at first calving and heat stress at parturition on reproductive efficiency and postpartum disorders in Holstein heifers

Keywords: temperature humidity index (THI), dystocia, conception rate, services per conception, preterm birth


The objective of this study was to evaluate the impact of age at first calving (AFC) and climatic conditions at calving on peripartum disorders and reproductive performance in Holstein heifers in a hot environment. A total of 3000 reproductive records from a large highly technified dairy farm were used; the variables evaluated were temperature humidity index (THI; <77, 77-83, >83) at calving and AFC (<2.0, 2.0-2.2 and >2.2 years). Across age groups, the cases of dystocic parturition increased (p<0.05) when the deliveries occurred with severe heat stress (4.3% vs. 3.3% for THI >83 and <83 units, respectively). Across THI, conception rate at the first postpartum artificial insemination (AI) was lower (p=0.02) for heifers calving for the first time >2.2 years compared to heifers calving between 2.0 and 2.2 and <2.0 years (9.8, 15.3 and 13.7%, respectively). Conception rate at first AI postcalving was higher (p<0.01) in heifers calving with THI less than 83 units than in heifers calving with a THI >83 units (16.8 vs. 5.4%). The conception rate considering all services was affected (p<0.05) by AFC (42.7, 50.4 and 40.9% for AFC <2.0, 2.0-2.2 and >2.2 years, respectively). The interaction AFC × THI at calving was significant (p<0.05). The occurrence of metritis was higher (p<0.05) in heifers <2.0 years of age at calving than those calving after 2 years of age. The presence of ovarian cysts was less common (p<0.05) in heifers with greater AFC. In conclusion, increasing the AFC in Holstein heifers had no benefits in reproduction and health, compared with heifers calving at <2.0 years. These data in a hot climate suggest that heifers should be selected to begin their first lactation before 2 years of age.


Download data is not yet available.


Ahmadi MR, Mirzaei A, 2006. Effect of heat stress on incidence of retained placenta in Holstein cows at dry hot weather of Shiraz. J Appl Anim Res 29: 23-24. https://doi.org/10.1080/09712119.2006.9706563

Atashi H, Abdolmohammadi A, Dadpasand M, Asaadi A, 2012. Prevalence, risk factors and consequent effect of dystocia in Holstein dairy cows in Iran. Asiaian-Australas J Anim Sci 25: 447-451. https://doi.org/10.5713/ajas.2011.11303

Attupuram NM, Kumaresan A, Narayanan K, Kumar H, 2016. Cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in placental separation in the bovine: A review. Molec Reprod Dev 83: 287-297. https://doi.org/10.1002/mrd.22635

Avendaño-Reyes L, Fuquay JW, Moore, RB, Liu Z, Clark BL, Vierhout C, 2009. Relationship between accumulated heat stress prepartum, body condition and postpartum performance in dairy cattle. J Appl Anim Res 35: 33-38. https://doi.org/10.1080/09712119.2009.9706980

Bach A, 2011. Associations between several aspects of heifer development and dairy cow survivability to second lactation. J Dairy Sci 94: 1052-1057. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2010-3633

Baumgard LH, Rhoads RP, 2013. Effects of heat stress on postabsorptive metabolism and energetics. Ann Rev Anim Biosc 1: 311-337. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-animal-031412-103644

Berry DP, Cromie AR, 2009. Associations between age at first calving and subsequent performance in Irish spring calving Holstein-Friesian dairy cows. Livest Sci 123: 44-54. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.livsci.2008.10.005

Berry DP, Lee JM, Macdonald KA, Roche JR, 2007. Body condition score and body weight effects on dystocia and stillbirths and consequent effects on postcalving performance. J Dairy Sci 90: 4201-4211. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2007-0023

Bicalho RC, Galvao KN, Cheong SH, Gilbert RO, Warnick LD, Guard CL, 2007. Effect of stillbirths on dam survival and reproduction performance in Holstein dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 90: 2797-2803. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2006-504

Challis JR, Lye SJ, Gibb W, Whittle W, Patel F, Alfaidy N, 2001. Understanding preterm labor. Ann NY Acad Sci 943: 225-234. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2001.tb03804.x

Chen S, Wang J, Peng D, Li G, Chen J, Gu X, 2018. Exposure to heat-stress environment affects the physiology, circulation levels of cytokines, and microbiome in dairy cows. Sci Rep 8: 14606. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-32886-1

Curran RD, Weigel KA, Hoffman PC, Marshall JA, Kuzdas CK, Coblentz WK, 2013. Relationships between age at first calving; herd management criteria; and lifetime milk, fat, and protein production in Holstein cattle. Profess Anim Sci 29: 1-9. https://doi.org/10.15232/S1080-7446(15)30188-1

De Rensis F, Scaramuzzi RJ, 2003. Heat stress and seasonal effects on reproduction in the dairy cow-A review. Theriogenelogy 60: 1139-1151. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0093-691X(03)00126-2

Dubuc J, Duffield TF, Leslie KE, Walton JS, LeBlanc SJ, 2010. Risk factors for postpartum uterine diseases in dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 93: 5764-5771. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2010-3429

Ettema JF, Santos JEP, 2004. Impact of age at calving on lactation, reproduction, health, and income in first-parity Holsteins on commercial farms. J Dairy Sci 87: 2730-2742. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(04)73400-1

Gaafar HMA, Shamiah SM, El-Hamd MAA, Shitta AA, El-Din MAT, 2011. Dystocia in Friesian cows and its effects on postpartum reproductive performance and milk production. Trop Anim Health Prod 43: 229-234. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11250-010-9682-3

Gardner RW, Smith LW, Park RL, 1988. Feeding and management of dairy heifers for optimal lifetime productivity. J Dairy Sci 71: 996-999. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(88)79646-0

Hansen M, Lund MS, Pedersen J, Christensen LG, 2004. Gestation length in Danish Holsteins has weak genetic associations with stillbirths, calving difficulty, and calf size. Livest Prod Sci 91: 23-33. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.livprodsci.2004.06.007

Hossein-Zadeh NG, Ardalan M, 2011. Evaluation of the potential effects of abortion on the productive performance of Iranian Holstein dairy cows. Anim Sci J 82: 117-121. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1740-0929.2010.00802.x

Karapinar T, Dabak M, 2008. Treatment of premature calves with clinically diagnosed respiratory distress syndrome. J Vet Int Med 22: 462-466. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1939-1676.2008.0074.x

Kemmerling K, Müller U, Mielenz M, Sauerwein H, 2009. Chlamydophila species in dairy farms: Polymerase chain reaction prevalence, disease association, and risk factors identified in a cross-sectional study in western Germany. J Dairy Sci 92: 4347-4354. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2009-2051

Laburn HP, Mitchell D, Goelst K, 2017. Fetal and maternal body temperatures measured by radiotelemetry in near-term sheep during thermal stress. J Appl Physiol 72: 894-900. https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.1992.72.3.894

Le Cozler Y, Lollivier V, Lacasse P, Disenhaus C, 2008. Rearing strategy and optimizing first-calving targets in dairy heifers: A review. Animal 2: 1393-1404. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1751731108002498

Lombard JE, Garry FB, Tomlinson SM, Garber LP, 2007. Impacts of dystocia on health and survival of dairy calves. J Dairy Sci 90: 1751-1760. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2006-295

López E, Mellado M, Martínez AM, Véliz FG, García JE, de Santiago A, Carrillo E, 2018. Stress-related hormonal alterations, growth and pelleted starter intake in pre-weaning Holstein calves in response to thermal stress. Int J Biomet 62: 493-500. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00484-017-1458-2

McAllister MM, 2016. Diagnosis and control of bovine neosporosis. Vet Clin North Am Food Anim Pract 32: 443-463. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cvfa.2016.01.012

Mee JF, 2008. Prevalence and risk factors for dystocia in dairy cattle: A review. Vet J 176: 93-101. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tvjl.2007.12.032

Mellado M, Sepulveda E, Meza-Herrera C, Veliz F, Arevalo J, Mellado J, De Santiago A, 2013. Effects of heat stress on reproductive efficiency of high yielding Holstein cows in a hot-arid environment. Rev Colomb Cienc Pec 26: 193-200.

Mellado M, López R, de Santiago A, Veliz FG, Macías-Cruz U, Avendaño-Reyes L, García JE, 2016. Climatic conditions, twining and frequency of milking as factors affecting the risk of fetal losses in high-yielding Holstein cows in a hot environment. Trop Anim Health Prod 48: 1247-1252. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11250-016-1084-8

Mokhtari MS, Moradi Shahrbabak M, Nejati Javaremi A, Rosa GJM, 2016. Relationship between calving difficulty and fertility traits in first-parity Iranian Holsteins under standard and recursive models. J Anim Breed Genet 133: 513-522. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbg.12212

Moussavi AH, Mesgaran MD, 2008. Impact of age at first calving on lactation and reproduction of first-parity Iranian Holsteins dairy cows. J Anim Vet Adv 7: 190-195.

Neamt RI, Cziszter LT, Ilie DE, Erina S, Acatincăi St, 2015. Effects of heat stress and productive level on the main reproduction indices and incidence of dystocia in brown breed cows. Sci Papers-Anim Sci Series 63: 142-151.

Nilforooshan MA, Edriss MA, 2004. Effect of age at first calving on some productive and longevity traits in Iranian Holsteins of the Isfahan province. J Dairy Sci 87: 2130-2135. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(04)70032-6

NRC, 2001. Nutrient requirements of dairy cattle, 7th Rev Ed. National Research Council, Nat Acad Press, Washington, DC.

Nyman AK, Emanuelson U, Holtenius K, Ingvartsen KL, Larsen T, Persson Waller K, 2008. Metabolites and immune variables associated with somatic cell counts of primiparous dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 91: 2996-3009. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2007-0969

O'Brien JM, Lewis DF, 2016. Prevention of preterm birth with vaginal progesterone or 17-alpha-hydroxyprogesterone caproate: a critical examination of efficacy and safety. Am J Obstet Gynecol 214: 45-56. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2015.10.934

Oikawa T, 2017. Effect of heat stress on age at first calving of Japanese Black cows in Okinawa. Anim Sci J 88: 439-444. https://doi.org/10.1111/asj.12669

Patel OV, Takahashi T, Takenouchi N, Hirako M, Sasaki N, Domeki I, 1996. Peripheral cortisol levels throughout gestation in the cow: Effect of stage of gestation and foetal number. Brit Vet J 152: 425-432. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0007-1935(96)80036-4

Roth Z, 2008. Heat stress, the follicle, and its enclosed oocyte: mechanisms and potential strategies to improve fertility in dairy cows. Reprod Domest Anim 43: 238-244. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1439-0531.2008.01168.x

Schuenemann GM, Nieto I, Bas S, Galvão KN, Workman J, 2011. Assessment of calving progress and reference times for obstetric intervention during dystocia in Holstein dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 94: 5494-5501. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2011-4436

Sheldon IM, Lewis GS, LeBlanc S, Gilbert RO, 2006. Defining postpartum uterine disease in cattle. Theriogenology 65: 1516-1530. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.theriogenology.2005.08.021

Tao S, Dahl GE, 2013. Invited review: heat stress effects during late gestation on dry cows and their calves. J Dairy Sci 96: 4079-4093. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2012-6278

Thom EC, 1959. The discomfort index. Weatherwise 12: 57-60. https://doi.org/10.1080/00431672.1959.9926960

Thurmond MC, Picanso JP, 1990. A surveillance system for bovine abortion. Prev Vet Med 8: 41-53. https://doi.org/10.1016/0167-5877(90)90021-9

Tozer PR, Heinrichs AJ, 2001. What affects the costs of raising replacement dairy heifers: a multiple-component analysis? J Dairy Sci 84: 1836-1844. https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(01)74623-1

Vanholder T, Opsomer G, de Kruif A, 2006. Aetiology and pathogenesis of cystic ovarian follicles in dairy cattle: A review. Reprod Nutr Dev 46: 105-119. https://doi.org/10.1051/rnd:2006003

West JW, 1999. Nutritional strategies for managing the heat-stressed dairy cow. J Anim Sci 77: 21-35. https://doi.org/10.2527/1997.77suppl_221x

Wright EC, Boehmer BH, Cooper-Prado MJ, Bailey CL, Wettemann RP, 2014. Effect of elevated ambient temperature at parturition on duration of gestation, ruminal temperature, and endocrine function of fall-calving beef cows. J Anim Sci 92: 4449-4456. https://doi.org/10.2527/jas.2014-8055

Zaborski D, Grzesiak W, Szatkowska I, Dybus A, Muszynska M, Jedrzejczak M, 2009. Factors affecting dystocia in cattle. Reprod Dom Anim 44: 540-551. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1439-0531.2008.01123.x

How to Cite
MelladoM., AlbaV., GaytánL., GarcíaJ. E., & MelladoJ. (2019). Effect of age at first calving and heat stress at parturition on reproductive efficiency and postpartum disorders in Holstein heifers. Spanish Journal of Agricultural Research, 17(2), e0405. https://doi.org/10.5424/sjar/2019172-13544
Animal breeding, genetics and reproduction