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Dietary protein and the reproductive performance of cows
  1. R. A. Laven, BVetMed,MRCVS1 and
  2. S. B. Drew, BSc, PhD, CBiol,FIBiol, FRAg1
  1. 1 ADAS Bridgets Dairy Research Centre, Martyr Worthy, Hampshire SO1 lAP


Increasing a cow's intake of dietary protein intake can increase its milk production, but can also reduce its fertility. This paper reviews the effects of increasing dietary protein on the fertility of the dairy cow, and the mechanisms that may produce them. The effects vary widely, but all stages of the reproductive cycle from the return to cyclicity after parturition, to the survival of the embryo, may be affected. However, the underlying cause of the link between protein intake and fertility is unclear. Fertility could be reduced by a direct toxic effect of protein breakdown products, but alternatively the increased energy demand for their metabolism could be responsible. The effect of protein degradability is also uncertain. Excess rumen degradable protein is commonly associated with reduced fertility, but similar effects are produced by diets that contain excess rumen undegradable protein. Increasing the intake of protein of all degradabilities has significantly different effects on blood biochemistry than a reduction in the intake of energy, suggesting that not all the effects of protein are due to energy imbalance. The primary site of action of the effect is also unclear. Limited evidence suggests that it is localised to the reproductive system, but effects on the pituitary and hypothalamus, as well as the ovary and uterus, have all been postulated. It is also uncertain what toxic principle is involved. Ammonia, nitrate and urea have all been suggested, but there is no conclusive evidence. Although a high protein intake has been postulated to have an effect on fertility for over 30 years, the evidence remains inconclusive, and the aetiology and pathogenesis of the effect remain obscure.

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