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Bovine Estrus Cycle

Bovine Estrus Cycle

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Published by: Suraj_Subedi on Feb 11, 2011
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The percentage of cows that become pregnant during a breeding season hasa direct effect on ranch profitability. Consequently, a basic understand-ing of the bovine estrous cycle can increase the effectiveness of repro-ductive management.After heifers reach puberty (first ovulation) or following thepostpartum anestrous period (a period of no estrous cycles) incows, a period of estrous cycling begins. Estrous cycles givea heifer or cow a chance to become pregnant about every 21days.During each estrous cycle, follicles develop in wave-like patterns, which are controlled by changes in hor-mone concentrations. In addition, the corpus luteum(CL) develops following ovulation of a follicle. Whileit is present, this CLinhibits other follicles from ovulat-ing. The length of each estrous cycle is measured bythe number of days between each standing estrus.
The Anestrous Period
Anestrus occurs when an animal does not exhibit normalestrous cycles. This occurs in heifers before they reachpuberty and in cows following parturition (calving).During an anestrous period, normal follicular waves occur,but standing estrus and ovulation do not occur. Therefore,during the anestrous period heifers or cows cannot becomepregnant.
Standing Estrus and Ovulation
Standing estrus, also referred to as standing heat, is the most visualsign of each estrous cycle. It is the period of time when a female is sex-ually receptive.Estrus in cattle usually lasts about 15 hours but can range from less than 6hours to close to 24 hours. In cattle, the period of time when a female will standand allow mounting by other animals (Fig 1) is the sexually receptive period.
Figure 1
Standing to be mounted by a bull or another cowis the only conclusive sign that a cow is in standing estrus andready to be bred.
South Dakota State University—Cooperative Extension Service—USDA
FS921A—George Perry, Extension Beef Reproduction Management Specialist
Afemales enters standing estrus gradually. Prior to standing estrus she mayappear nervous and restless (for example, walking a fence line in search of a bull or bawling more than usual). Prior to standing to be mounted by abull or other cows, she will usually try to mount other animals. Thesesigns will progress until standing estrus occurs. Other signs that acow might be in standing estrus are a roughed up tailhead, a clearmucous discharge from the vagina, and a swollen vulva. However,the only
sign that a cow is in estrus is standing to bemounted by other animals.Following standing estrus, the ovulatory follicle that is presentwill ovulate, releasing the egg it contains. Rupture of the dominantfollicle is referred to as ovulation and occurs between 24 and 32hours after the onset of standing estrus. Following the release of anegg from an ovulatory follicle the egg will enter the female reproduc-tive tract and be fertilized if the female has been mated.Following each standing estrus, a new estrous cycle will be initiated. Ina normally cycling animal the interval between each standing estrus shouldbe about 21 days (Fig 2), but the range in normal estrous cycle length is from 17to 24 days. When evaluating reproductive efficiency, it is important to realize thatthe interval between standing estrus can vary from 17 to 24 days.
The Corpus Luteum
Following ovulation, the different cells that make up the ovulatory follicle change function and become luteal cells that form the corpusluteum (CL). The CLis the main structure on the ovaries during the estrous cycle.The primary purpose of the CLis to produce
, a hormone that regulates several physiological functions. Progesterone prepares the uterus for pregnancy, maintains thepregnancy if fertilization occurs, and also inhibits the cows from showing signsof standing estrus and ovulating.In general, as the CLincreases in size during the beginning of the estrous cycle, progesterone production also increases.Elevated concentrations of progesterone can be detectedabout 5 days after standing estrus. If a cow does notbecome pregnant, concentrations of progesteronewill begin to decrease around day 17 of theestrous cycle. This allows the cow to showstanding estrus again around day 21(Fig 3).
Follicular Waves
In cattle, follicles develop in wave-likepatterns, and follicular waves can bedetected during most reproductive stagesincluding the prepubertal period in heifers,during estrous cycles, pregnancy (exceptthe last 30 days), and even during the ane-strous postpartum period.Following each ovulation, a new follicularwave is initiated. Several follicles are recruit-ed from a pool of small, growing follicles on theovary and initiate a new follicular wave.Following recruitment of these follicles, a follicle is
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Figure 2
The interval between each standing estrus is about 21days, but can range from 17 to 24 days. Ovulation occurs between 24and 32 hours after the initiation of standing estrus (indicated by thedark circles).
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Figure 3
Demonstrates the growth and regression of the CLduring the estrous cyclealong with changes in concentration of progesterone that occur. Following ovulation, cellsfrom the ovulatory follicle change function and become luteal cells forming the CL(opencircles). Concentrations of progesterone increase following the growth of the CL, anddecrease with the regression of the CL(dashed line).
then selected to continue to grow. This selected follicle then becomes thedominant one, inhibiting the growth of any other follicles.In the absence of progesterone, the dominant follicle will become theovulatory follicle and will ovulate following standing estrus. In thepresence of progesterone the dominant follicle will not ovulate, butwill undergo atresia (cell death), and a new follicular wave will beinitiated.Cattle usually have 2 or 3 follicular waves during each estrouscycle (Fig 4).
Hormonal Regulation of theEstrous Cycle
Several hormones regulate the bovine estrous cycle (Table 1).Changes in the concentrations of these different hormones regulatethe recruitment and growth of the follicular waves, the timing of ovulation, and the length of the estrous cycle (Fig 5).
Regulation of follicular waves:
Following ovulation, circulatingconcentrations of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (
) increase. Thisincrease in FSH causes the recruitment of a group (cohort) of follicles at thebeginning of each follicular wave. After the cohort has been recruited, circulatingconcentrations of FSHdecrease.Beginning around the time of selection, the continuedgrowth and development of the selected follicle is regu-lated by LuteinizingHormone (
). LuteinizingHormone also regulates thegrowth and development of the dominant follicle. While adominant follicle is present, cir-culating concentrations of FSHremain low, which inhibits the ini-tiation of a new follicular wave.However, after a dominant follicleovulates or undergoes atresia, a rise incirculating concentrations of FSH occursand a new follicular wave is initiated.
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Figure 4
Demonstrates three fol-licular waves occurring during theestrous cycle along with the growthand regression of the CLand thechanges in concentration of proges-terone. Agroup of follicles is recruit-ed from the growing pool of follicleson each ovary (group of small cir-cles). Afollicle from this recruitedgroup is then selected to continue togrow (medium circles). Finally thisfollicle becomes the dominant follicle(large circles). The dominant folliclethat is present after circulating con-centrations of progesterone havedecreased will become the ovulatoryfollicle and ovulate followingstanding estrus.
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Figure 5
Demonstrates the changes in concentrations of different hormones that regulatethe bovine estrous cycle along with the growth and regression of the CLand 3 follicularwaves. While a dominant follicle is present, circulating concentrations of FSH (solid line) arelow, but following ovulation or atresia of a dominant follicle, circulating concentrations of FSH rise and initiate a new follicular wave. As follicles grow they produce increasing con-centrations of estradiol, but when progesterone (dashed line) is present, dominant folliclesundergo atresia. When progesterone is not present, concentrations of estradiol (diamond line)increase with follicle size and induce a surge of LH (dashed dotted line, around day 20),which causes ovulation to occur. When no embryo is present, the uterus releases PG (dottedline, around day 16), resulting in luteolysis and allowing standing estrus to occur within a fewdays.

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