Monitoring and improving reproductive performance of crossbred dairy cattle in Tigray Region, Ethiopia
Mekonnin, Alemselam Birhanu
Ethiopia maintains an extensive livestock population; however, reproductive performance of cattle and their breeding management are unsatisfactory. Currently, the sole diagnostic tool in the country is rectal palpation, which is inaccurate for early pregnancy in cattle. The study assessed reproductive performance and major reproductive problems using questionnaire survey, and evaluated simple, cost-effective alternative monitoring approaches using on-farm diagnostic tools to determine milk and serum progesterone (P4) and evaluate reproductive status. There were 177 dairy farms (range 1-115 cattle per farm) included in the questionnaire survey. Of these, 47 participated in the quantitative determination of P4 and estradiol profiles that used an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and in the on-farm diagnostic trial that used qualitative ELISA (Target P4 and Dipstick (P4 Rapid), and the reproductive status of 319 crossbred [Holstein Friesian (HF) X Zebu] dairy cattle was assessed. Questionnaires indicated that heifers in the study area reach puberty at older age and calve late, and cows have long postpartum estrus and calving interval. Anestrus, repeat-breeding, dystocia, retained fetal membranes (RFM), endometritis and abortion as the major reproductive problems in dairy cattle in the study area. Serum, milk, saliva and urine P4 and serum estradiol profiles of cattle at different reproductive status was determined using quantitative laboratory ELISA. High P4 levels was detected in pregnant and diestrus cattle than cattle that were anestrus and in-heat. Estradiol level was higher in cattle that were in-heat than cattle in other reproductive conditions. On-farm P4 ELISA indicated in-heat (estrus) 10 (3.1%), anestrus 77 (24.2%), repeater (follicular cyst) 9 (2.8%), normally cycling 69 (21.6%) and pregnant 154 (48.3%). The field P4 ELISA findings were validated using quantitative laboratory P4 ELISA, and similar results were obtained. The sensitivity and specificity of on-farm and laboratory P4 ELISA tests for diagnosing pregnancy were 88.6 & 99.4% and 98.1 & 100%, respectively. Once reproductive problems were identified using on-farm P4 ELISA and per rectal palpation, along with reproductive history, 122 cattle (75 cows and 47 heifers) were assigned to a 10-day Controlled Internal Drug Release (CIDR) in combination with prostaglandin F2-alpha (PGF2α) and equine chorionic gonadotrophin (eCG) based estrus synchronisation protocol to study the estrus response and conception rate. The overall estrus response and conception rates were 97.5% and 78.3%, respectively, with no significant differences in parity, pre-treatment reproductive status (anestrus or cycling (repeat-breeding/silent-estrus)) and farming system (smallholder vs organised commercial farms). The study has shown high estrus response and conception rate. Hence, this protocol is highly recommended to enhance fertility of dairy cattle in the study area and other regions. Finally, the study has determined the macronutrient composition of milk and assessed the effect of reproductive status, farm (nutritional) management, stages of lactation, parity and breed on milk composition in 246 dairy cows. This consisted of 184 crossbred cows from smallholder (n= 76: 36 non-pregnant and 40 pregnant) and organised commercial dairy farms (n= 108: 62 non-pregnant and 46 pregnant) in and around Mekelle, Ethiopia and by way of comparison, 62 HF cows (25 non-pregnant and 37 pregnant), either managed indoors or outdoors in a commercial farm in Edinburgh, United Kingdom. The mean milk fat, protein, lactose, total solid (TS) and solid-no-fat (SNF) recorded were 2.36%, 3.46%, 4.37%, 10.39% and 7.82%, in crossbred dairy cows, compared with 5.05%, 3.71%, 4.72%, 13.68% and 8.43%, in HF cows, respectively. Significantly lower (p<0.05) level of macronutrient was recorded in milk from crossbred cows than HF cows. Milk fat in both breeds was affected by reproductive status, farm (nutritional) management and stages of lactation, but not by parity. In both cattle breeds, the milk fat content was significantly higher (p<0.05) in pregnant than non-pregnant cows. Milk protein content was significantly (p<0.05) affected by reproductive status (in crossbreds) and stages of lactation (in both breeds), but not by farm management or parity. Reproductive status (in crossbreds), stages of lactation (in both breeds) and parity (in crossbreds) affected lactose level; however, farm management had no effect on lactose level in both breeds. Milk fat was the most affected macronutrient content in both breeds. Low milk fat level in crossbred cows could be as a result of samples obtained from early milking coupled with nutritional management. In conclusion, the present study has determined the major reproductive problems in crossbred dairy cattle, assessed their actual reproductive status using rapid, cost effective, simple and applicable on-farm P4 tests, and established P4 and estradiol profiles at different reproductive status. The major breeding problem was poor estrus detection evidenced when animals reported anestrus were confirmed normally cycling using on-farm as well as laboratory P4 assays. These studies offer opportunities for establishing simple field reporting of reproductive status in these crossbred dairy cattle, which can have a major impact on breeding management and productivity.