The influence of nutrition during the first and second trimesters of gestation on the occurrence of dystocia was investigated in 3-year-old composite-breed beef heifers. Heifers were allocated according to stratification by weight and genotype to either a high (H/-=76 MJ metabolisable energy (ME) and 1.4 kg crude protein (CP)), or low (L/-=62 MJ ME and 0.4 kg CP daily) nutritional treatment on the day of artificial insemination (day 0) to the same Senepol bull. Half of each nutritional group changed to an opposite nutritional group on day 93 of gestation (-/H=82 MJ ME and 1.4 kg CP; -/L=63 MJ ME and 0.4 kg CP daily), resulting in four treatment groups: HH (n=16); HL (n=19); LH (n=17); LL (n=19). From 180 days until calving all heifers were fed the same diets. Pelvic area measures were taken at heifer selection (-72 days) and at 117 days. Maternal circulating concentrations of estrone sulphate (ES), bovine placental lactogen (bPL), bovine pregnancy associated glycoprotein and progesterone were monitored throughout gestation. Heifers were observed continuously over the calving period and delivery type classified as being either eutocic or dystocic. The occurrence of dystocia was 14.1%. Increased calf birth weight increased the odds of occurrence of dystocia (odds ratio (OR)=1.40; 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.12-1.76; P<0.01). High diets in the second trimester were associated with heavier calves at birth (P=0.01). The mean pelvic area of eutocic heifers on -72 d, tended to be greater compared to that of dystocic heifers (P=0.08) such that a 1-cm(2) difference in pelvic area tended to decrease the risk of dystocia (OR=0.97; 95% CI 0.93-1.01; P=0.09). Longer gestation length was associated with an increased risk of dystocia (P=0.03). ES (P=0.04) and bPL (P=0.09) at calving were positively associated with the risk of dystocia. In conclusion, the current study demonstrates (a) that pelvic area measurement at selection in 3-year-old Bos indicusxBos taurus heifers may be useful for identifying heifers at an increased risk of dystocia and (b) increased ES and bPL concentrations at calving are associated with increased risk of dystocia. Pelvic area measurements obtained prior to conception remain valid in their assessment of the relationship between pelvic area and likelihood of dystocia occurring in the event of changing maternal nutrient intake during gestation. This is an important finding given maternal diets high in protein and energy during the second trimester of gestation increased calf birth weight and calf birth weight was associated with an increase in the occurrence of dystocia in heifers calving as 3-year olds.
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