A model of reproductive performance was developed to study the influences of breeding management decisions and animal characteristics on the reproductive performance and the calving distribution in a beef herd. In the model, reproductive performance is formalized as a sequence of events (parturition, ovulation, conception), each of which modifies the reproductive status of the simulated cow. With respect to reproduction, a cow can be in one of three possible states: open-not-cycling, open-cycling or pregnant. The length of the different intervals that are included between two successive reproductive events (calving to first cycle interval, length of oestrous cycles, calving–conception and calving intervals) is formalized using stochastic or empirical laws that may be influenced by numerous animal or environmental factors or by management decisions (feeding strategy, breeding season and length of the breeding period). Within the herd, cows are considered to differ from each other by their parity, calving date, body condition at calving and their bull exposure.
Calving to first oestrous interval (postpartum anoestrous interval (PPAI)) is expressed as the sum of three equations which formalize the respective effects of calving date, body condition score at calving (BCScalving) and the response to early bull exposure in interaction with BCScalving. The influences of these variables on reproductive performance were quantified by analysing data sets (three bibliographical and two experimental) or by expertise. Special attention was paid to the influence of calving date on PPAI and a biological interpretation of this effect is proposed. Probabilities of natural insemination success were estimated according to the number of oestrus and the number of matings.
The model was fitted to data from primiparous Charolais cows (n=139) bred at the experimental station Laqueuille (French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA)). Its ability to simulate PPAI was tested using an independent data set of primiparous Charolais cows (n=188) from the experimental farm Le Pin. The model only accounts for 39% of the observed inter-individual variability. However, the analysis of the mean square deviation components led to validation of the structure of the model. In particular, the assumption that the influence of calving date on PPAI can be attributed to a sensitivity of the reproductive function to the variation of the photoperiod during the month preceding parturition was confirmed. Simulations also revealed that fat cows could have similar anoestrus to thin cows when they are exposed early to a bull. Such a result emphasized the necessity to investigate further and better calibrate the combined effects of BCS at calving and bull exposure on PPAI.