New Zealand veterinary journal

Risk factors for and reproductive outcomes of phantom cows on New Zealand dairy farms.

PMID 25833764


To determine some of the risk factors for cows not observed in oestrus within 35-42 days of an unsuccessful artificial insemination (AI; phantom cows), and the reproductive outcomes and effect of treatment of phantom cows. Over 2 years, in dairy herds from the Waikato (n=10) and Canterbury (n=4) regions of New Zealand, pregnancy diagnosis was carried out 35-42 days after AI on cows that had been inseminated in the first 3 weeks after the start of mating (PSM) but had not been seen returning to oestrus. Risk factors for phantom cows were analysed using a generalised linear mixed effect model. In Year 1, all phantom cows were left untreated. In Year 2, phantom cows were categorised as having a corpus luteum (CL) (CL+ n=120), or having ovarian follicles≥10 (n=101) or <10 (n=40) mm in diameter. Cows with a CL were treated with cloprostenol or untreated and placed with bulls. Cows with no CL received intravaginal progesterone (P4) for 7 days, with injection of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) on Days 0 and 9, and cloprostenol on Day 7 followed by AI. Pregnancy diagnosis of all cows took place 100-120 days after PSM and interval to conception and final pregnancy rate determined. Overall, of cows inseminated in the first 3 weeks after PSM that did not return to oestrus, 610/6,734 (9.1%) were phantom cows. From the final multivariable analysis, treatment for anoestrus, BCS≤4.0 at mating, being 2 or >6 years of age, and pure-bred, and decreasing interval between calving and mating, until 98 days post calving, were associated with increased odds of being a phantom cow. Compared to all other groups of cows, phantom cows had a longer interval to conception (p<0.001) and a lower final pregnancy rate (p<0.001). Treatment of CL+ cows or cows with follicles≥10 mm did not affect reproductive outcomes (p>0.3). For cows with follicles<10 mm treatment decreased the final percentage not pregnant (3/27; 11%; p=0.01) and interval to conception (21 days; p=0.02) compared with controls (7/13; 54% and 37 days, respectively). Risk factors for phantom cows were identified that could be manipulated to reduce the number of phantom cows in a herd, in particular increasing BCS. Treatment of the majority of phantom cows did not improve reproductive performance.