In this study 272 beef heifers were studied from just prior to their first breeding season (15 October 2003), through their second breeding season and until just after they had weaned their first calves in March 2005. The study consisted of two main parts: in the first part, heifers were randomly allocated to either a synchronised TEST group or an unsynchronised CONTROL group. The TEST group received artificial insemination (AI) for 6 days followed by prostaglandin F2á (PGF) treatment on day 6 (PGF/6) and further AI for a total of 50 days, which was followed after a 6 day break by a 42 day bull breeding season. The CONTROL group were bred for the same period without PGF treatment. Synchronisation resulted in a reduction in days to first insemination (P < 0.01) and days to calving (P = 0.04). No significant difference could be demonstrated in pregnancy rate to the 50 day AI season (60.0% vs. 51.8%, TEST and CONTROL groups respectively, P = 0.18), final pregnancy rate (82.2% vs. 83.2%, P = 0.87) or pregnancy rate to the subsequent breeding season (96.0% vs. 95.0%, P = 1.00). A significant increase in mean weaning mass of the calves due to synchronisation could not be demonstrated (207.0 kg vs. 201.4 kg, TEST and CONTROL groups respectively, P = 0.32). However, data from this study were used to calculate the benefit:cost ratio, and a value of 2.8 was reached, representing the return on investment for the synchronisation protocol under these circumstances. It was concluded from this study that a PGF/6 protocol may lead to a change in the total mass of calves weaned by changing days to calving and thus weaning mass, birth mass of calves, weaning rate and/or the ratio of male:female calves born. It was further concluded that a practical way to predict the cost effectiveness of an oestrus synchronisation protocol is to determine the ratio between the total cost of the programme and the price of weaner calves per kg live mass. This ratio represents the minimum increase in mean weaning mass that has to be achieved for the programme to be cost effective if no increase in weaning rate is achieved.
In the second part of this study, reproductive tract scoring (RTS) was performed on the same group of heifers one day before the onset of their first breeding season. The effect of RTS on several reproduction and production outcomes was tested, and the association of RTS with the outcomes was compared to the associations of other input variables such as mass, age, body condition score (BCS) and Kleiber ratio using multiple or univariable linear or logistic regression. RTS was associated with pregnancy rate to the 50 day AI season
(P < 0.01), days to calving (r = 0.28, P < 0.01), calf weaning mass (r = 0.22, P < 0.01) and pregnancy rate to the subsequent breeding season (P < 0.01). These associations were mostly independent of associations with mass, age and BCS before the onset of the first breeding season. RTS was a better predictor of fertility than was Kleiber ratio, and similar in its prediction of calf weaning mass. It was concluded from this study that RTS is a unique predictor of heifer fertility, compares well with (but is independent of) other traits used as a predictor of production outcomes and is likely to be a good predictor of life production of the cow.