The objective of the study was to evaluate the effect on reproductive performance of varying level of concentrate supplementation with both high and medium genetic merit cows in a spring calving grass-based system of milk production. The effect of year, cow genetic merit for milk production and concentrate feeding level on milk production, body condition score, live weight, blood metabolites and dry-matter (DM) intake were studied. A repeated measures model with a factorial arrangement of genetic merit and concentrate feeding level was used to do this. Associations between these variables and pregnancy to first service (PREG1), pregnancy to first and second service (PREG12) and overall pregnancy (PREG) rates were assessed using logistic regressions for year 2.
Cows were grouped into high (HM) and medium (MM) genetic merit based on their pedigree indices for milk production (PD milk). The HM cows had a PD milk of + 276 (s.d. 100) kg, while the MM cows had mean PD milk of + 81 (s.d. 95) kg. Within genetic merit groupings, cows were assigned to one of three concentrate feeding levels; low (LC), 376 kg; medium (MC), 810 kg; and high (HC), 1540 kg of concentrate per cow per lactation. In year 1, all 78 cows were second lactation animals, while in year 2, 71 cows (previously in year 1) were third lactation and 12 second lactation. All cows calved between February and April, and were presented for rebreeding from late April until late July each year.
When treatment means were compared, genotype and concentrate feeding levels had no significant effects on reproductive performance while year was significant for most parameters. Comparing year 2 to year 1 pregnancy rate to first service (P 0•001; 37 v. 64%), pregnancy rate to first and second service (P < 0•05; 64 v. 81%), overall pregnancy rate (P < 0•05; 78 v. 92%) were lower. Also in year 2, cows had significantly higher milk yields at first insemination (36•9 v. 32•3 kg per cow per day), greater live-weight losses from calving to first insemination (-86 v. –53 kg per cow), lower live-weight gain in the 90 days after their first insemination (+ 24•6 v. + 34•2 kg per cow), higher DM intake (20•6 v. 17•3 kg DM per cow per day) and lower plasma glucose concentrations (3•18 v. 3•61 mmol/l) than in year 1.
In year 2, there were significant negative associations between the likelihood of PREG12 and both PD milk and live-weight gain in the 90 days after first insemination. The results of this study indicate that continued selection for increased milk production, resulting in greater partitioning of energy to milk production rather than body reserves will reduce reproductive performance and offering higher levels of concentrate supplementation may not alleviate this problem.