Reproductive Health in Dairy Cattle

Reproductive diseases can have a devastating impact on your operation’s success and your financial well-being.  Bovine reproductive conditions include:

  • Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (BVDV)

    What is bovine viral diarrhea virus?

    • Bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) Types 1a, 1b and 2 are highly contagious
    • BVDV Type 1b is currently the most prevalent subtype in the United States1

    Cattle affected

    • Most infections are acquired after birth, and are transient, meaning they only last a few weeks
    • A small percentage of infections are acquired in the uterus, and the calves are persistently infected (PI), shedding the virus for their entire lives 

    Disease development

    • In pregnant cows, the virus can be transferred through the bloodstream to the fetus (vertical transmission)
    • Infected animals can shed the virus in saliva, nasal and eye discharge, urine, feces, milk, semen, and aborted fetal tissues, exposing other animals (horizontal transmission).


    • Most infections are subclinical, meaning cattle show no signs
    • Signs can vary from mild to severe but relate to reproductive disease (abortions and birth defects) or respiratory disease 
    • PI calves can develop mucosal disease, resulting in diarrhea, digestive tract ulceration and often, death


    • Diagnosis is generally made by a combination of physical exam and blood, milk or tissue testing


    • There is no treatment for BVD, which is why prevention is so important
    • Your veterinarian may recommend supportive care and antibiotics for secondary infections


    • Identify and eliminate PI calves
    • Prevent exposure with good biosecurity and testing and surveillance programs
    • Vaccinate cows to improve colostrum quality
    • Vaccinate calves to boost immunity
    • Choose a vaccine that is labeled to protect against all BVDV subtypes
  • Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR)

    What is infectious bovine rhinotracheitis?

    • A contagious viral infection caused by bovine herpesvirus-1 (BHV-1)
    • Often a contributing factor in bovine respiratory disease complex
    • Can also lead to reproductive disease and abortion

    Cattle affected

    • All ages of cattle are potentially affected

    Disease development

    • Spread through nasal and genital discharge, fetal fluids, embryos and semen
    • Can infect the ovaries and placenta, resulting in early embryonic death, abortions and occasionally abortions occurring long after the infection


    • Respiratory disease may appear as nasal discharge, sneezing, eye inflammation, ulcerative lesions on the mucous membranes, coughing 
    • Abortions, birth defects, infertility


    • Physical exam and blood or tissue testing


    • There is no treatment
    • Your veterinarian may recommend antibiotics for secondary infections or other supportive treatments


    • Vaccinate cows to protect against reproductive disease and improve colostrum quality
    • Vaccinate calves to boost immunity
  • Leptospirosis

    What is leptospirosis?

    • A bacterial disease caused by numerous serovars of Leptospira, spiral-shaped bacteria called spirochetes
    • Common serovars in North America include Hardjo-bovis and Pomona, and to a lesser degree Grippotyphosa, Bratislava, Icterohaemorrhagiae and Canicola 
    • The infection can be zoonotic, meaning it can be passed from animals to people

    Cattle affected

    • Cattle of any age can be affected

    Disease development

    • Wildlife such as rodents may harbor the infection shed bacteria; spirochetes often live in stagnant water
    • Infected urine and placental fluids serve as sources of infection
    • Spirochetes invade through the mucous membranes (such as the mouth tissues) or in abrasions
    • Bacteria can travel in the bloodstream to organs such as the kidneys and reproductive tract


    • Clinical signs can vary, depending on the serovar of bacteria
    • Some infections may be subclinical, meaning there are no signs
    • Fever, anorexia, depression, dark red urine
    • Abortion, stillbirths, weak offspring and prolonged calving interval


    • Bacteriological culture of blood, urine or tissue samples, or more advanced diagnostics


    • Work with your veterinarian to choose the right antibiotic


    • Vaccination
    • Control rodent and wildlife populations
    • Prevent exposure to swampy ground or streams

Estrus Synchronization in Dairy Operations

Reproductive efficiency is one of the key factors in successful dairy management. Since most cows reach top milk production in the first 120 days of lactation, cows with more lactations will spend more time producing milk at peak rates, and cows who breed back sooner will produce more lifetime milk.

But many factors can lead to longer calving intervals, such as poor AI technique, poor heat detection, low conception rates, poor nutrition, and metabolic diseases in the fresh period.2 This can impact your profits:

  • A missed heat cycle can cost as much as $293
  • A missed pregnancy costs a producer up to $4504

Estrus synchronization and artificial insemination provide an opportunity to advance genetic change in your dairy herd. Synchronization can also help:

  • Improve the reproductive performance of the herd
  • Decrease the calving interval
  • Reduce average days in milk
  • Increase lifetime milk production

Work with your veterinarian to find the estrus synchronization products and protocols that are right for your operation.

1 Fulton RW, Ridpath JF, Saliki JT, et al. Bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) 1b: predominant BVDV subtype in calves with respiratory disease. Can J Vet Res 2002;66:181–190.
2 Graves W. Dairy herd synchronization programs. University of Georgia Extension Publication B1227 2017. 
3 Meadows C, Rajala-Schultz PJ, Frazer GS. A spreadsheet-based model demonstrating the nonuniform economic effects of varying reproductive performance in Ohio dairy herds. J Dairy Sci 2005;88(3):1244-1254.
4 Frick PM, et al. Pregnant vs. open: Getting cows pregnant and the money it makes. Proceedings. 2005;49-62.

Dairy Reproductive Products

Citadel® Express® FP Triangle®
Synchsure®(cloprostenol sodium) Cystorelin®(gonadorelin)


CYSTORELIN IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION: Do not use in humans. Keep this and all drugs out of the reach of children. 

SYNCHSURE IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION: For animal use only, not for human use. Keep out of reach of children. Women of childbearing age, asthmatics, and persons with bronchial and other respiratory problems should exercise extreme caution when handling this product. In the early stages women may be unaware of their pregnancies. SYNCHSURE (cloprostenol sodium) is readily absorbed through the skin and may cause abortion and/or bronchospasms: direct contact with the skin should therefore be avoided. Accidental spillage on the skin should be washed off immediately with soap and water. 

Cattle Reproductive Education & Resources

Prostaglandin Choice Can Improve Synchronization Success

Evidence shows that one prostaglandin is better at lysing the corpus luteum resulting in estrus and improving conception and pregnancy rates.

Videos on Reproductive Conditions in Cattle

Getting the Most Out of Your Sync Program

Dr. Stephen Foulke, professional services veterinarian, Boehringer Ingelheim, explains why the best reproductive protocol is the one you can accomplish on your farm. 

More Productive Dairy Through More Efficient Reproduction

Synchronization programs help producers breed cows earlier, which can lead to higher lifetime average milk production.

1 Fulton RW, Ridpath JF, Saliki JT, et al. Bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) 1b: predominant BVDV subtype in calves with respiratory disease. Can J Vet Res 2002;66(3):181–190.