Department of Veterinary Science, University of Melbourne, 250 Princes Highway, Werribee, VIC 3030, Australia. [email protected]
Synchronization programs have become standard components in the current breeding management of cows in the dairy herds of most dairy industries. Many are based on protocols that allow timed inseminations (TAI) so as to circumvent the practical difficulties associated with estrus detection. These difficulties are exacerbated in modern herds of high producing cows either because of increasing herd size in which individual animal monitoring is difficult and often subjective, or because small intensively managed herds are milked in robotic systems that minimize animal: staff interactions. Additional reasons arise from high producing cows having less obvious symptoms of estrus, partly because of housing systems combined with intensive feeding and milking, partly because of higher metabolic clearance rates of reproductive hormones like estradiol and partly because of the increasing prevalence of prolonged post-partum anestrus and reproductive tract pathology. The most recently developed programs include protocols for resynchronization following first or subsequent inseminations. These re-synchronization protocols may involve selected forms of hormonal intervention during the diestrous and pro-estrous periods following TAI, or following pregnancy diagnosis by ultrasound from 28 days after TAI. The latter form of re-synchronization has become increasingly important with the recognition that late embryonic/early foetal death has become a major factor compromising the reproductive performance of high producing Holstein cows in many dairy industries. Although cows detected in estrus without any hormonal treatment before insemination have higher conception rates than those inseminated following synchronization and TAI, the low detection rates combined with embryonic death means that intervals from calving to conception (days open) are usually less when synchronization programs have been successfully implemented. One of the significant factors affecting a program's success is the compliance rate that may sometimes be less than 70%. Almost all programs involve strategically timed injections of prostaglandin F2alpha (PGF) and gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH). Injections of an estradiol ester and progesterone supplementation per vaginum may be included in some programs. The basic program is the "Ovsynch" regimen. Numerous variations have been tested and developed. Many involve increasingly complex protocols that increase the risk of non-compliance, none has consistently achieved conception rates that exceed 40% and few have reduced the incidence of embryonic death. These synchronization programs are the best that are currently available. They have not been able to overcome the consequences of lowered fertility associated with high levels of milk yield, forms of nutrition and environmental factors like heat stress that have profound effects on the physiology and metabolism of the high producing dairy cow.