The effect of body condition at calving on ovarian follicle characteristics during post-partum anoestrus was studied in 38 suckling Blue-Grey cows with mean body-condition scores of 2·80 (s.e. 0·05) (H) or 2·35 (s.e. 0·05) (L) at calving and fed so that they maintained live weight and body condition during lactation. Cows of each level of body condition were ovariectomized at either 5 or 9 weeks after calving and follicles ≥3 mm in diameter were dissected out and incubated in a medium (Medium 199) for 2 h. Follicle incubates were assayed for progesterone, testosterone and oestradiol. L cows had fewer follicles ≥3 mm in diameter than H cows (24·1 v. 44·9; P < 0·05) at 5 weeks post partum due to a lower number of small (3 to 4 mm) follicles (12·9 v. 30·6; P < 0·05). At 9 weeks there was no effect of body condition on mean numbers of follicles (38·1 v. 40·4; P > 0·05). The proportions of healthy, intermediate and atretic follicles in all cows were 0·35, 0·20 and 0·45 respectively; these proportions were not affected by body condition or time of ovariectomy. Body condition did not affect the overall mean capacity of the cultured follicles to produce oestradiol or progesterone in vitro but testosterone production was higher in follicles from H than L cows (6406 v. 5206 pg/h; P < 0·05). However, at 9 weeks post partum a greater proportion of H than L cows had a large (>8 mm), healthy, highly oestrogenic follicle (4/8 v. 1/7; P = 0·18).
At 9 weeks post partum, the four large, healthy, oestrogen-active follicles (those secreting >250 pg/h) from H cows were approximately 11-fold more oestrogenic than the single comparable follicle from L cows (7100 v. 635 pg/h; P > 0·05). There was little difference at week 5 post partum: 3288 and 2785 pg/h (P > 0·05) for H and L cows respectively. Oestrogen-active follicles from H cows were significantly more oestrogenic at 9 than 5 weeks post partum (5807 v. 3021 pg/h; P < 0·05). The results suggest that the body condition-related reduction in the number and steroidogenic capacity of large oestrogenic follicles in post-partum cows may be associated with a reduction in LH pulsatility.