New Zealand dairy cows grazing lush spring pasture have relatively high plasma urea nitrogen levels as a consequence of the high soluble crude protein content of this rapidly growing pasture. The elevated plasma urea levels have been implicated as a cause of poor reproductive performance in dairy herds. The aim of this trial was to determine if the bulk milk urea nitrogen levels (BMUNs) collected during the period from calving and through mating were related to the reproductive performance of the herds. Bulk milk samples were collected twice a week from 127 farms during the spring of 1998. The farms were suppliers of the NZ Dairy Group and Kiwi co-operatives. Reproductive performance data was collected from all herds. BMUNs were determined spectrophotomically using Sigma blood urea nitrogen kits. The twice-weekly BMUNs were averaged for each farm and these weekly mean values were centred on the nominated week of mating (W=+1) for the individual farms. There were significant among-farm differences in BMUNs with individual weekly farm values ranging from 5.4 to 26.8 (mg/dl) and the mean (W-3 to W+5) value for farms ranging from 9.6 to 18.8 (mg/dl). There were significant between farm differences in reproductive performance. The percentage of cows submitted for AI in first 3 weeks of mating (%SR21) ranged from 29.9 to 95.3%. The percentage of SR21 cows conceiving to that AI (%Preg1) ranged from 39 to 98.6% and the percentage of all cows in the herd pregnant by the end of mating (%Pregall) from 44.9 to 98.4%. There was some indication of a relationship between reproductive performance and BMUNs in that the change in BMUN level from W-3 to W+5 was significantly correlated within geographic zones with %SR21 and %Pregall, correlation coefficients being 0.36 (P=0.013) and 0.37 (P=0.010) respectively. The corresponding correlation for %Preg1 was only 0.21(P = 0.15). Thus farms for which BMUNs rose over the period W-3 to W+5 had higher reproductive performance than those in the same zone, which showed a fall. However, this accounted for very little of the overall variability. Farms were ranked on their reproductive performance and the average weekly BMUNs for the farms in each quartile calculated. There was no difference in the pattern of BMUNs for the different quartiles of each reproductive parameter. Thus, the measurement of BMUNs would appear to be of little value as an indicator or predictor of reproductive performance.
Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production, Volume 61, Christchurch, 192-194, 2001
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