Effects of prenatal androgen exposure on postnatal growth, estrous cyclicity and behavior in female beef cattle

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Virginia Tech


This study assessed the effects of prenatal androgen exposure during three periods, of gestation on the external genitalia, estrous cyclicity, postnatal growth, social dominance and sexual behavior of female beef cattle. Pregnant cows received 17a methyl-testosterone (250 mg/d, sq) on d 40 to 100 (group 1), 70 to 130 (group 2) or 100 to 160 (group 3) of gestation. Control cows (group 0) received no treatment. Group 1 females exhibited completely masculinized external. genitalia. No vulval opening was present and the ano-genital distance (A-g) was similar to that of control male calves. Group 2 females exhibited small vulval openings and enlarged clitoral structures while group 3 females exhibited normally appearing female external genitalia. Anogenital distances for the heifers in groups 2 and 3 were similar to those of the control heifers. Androgen exposure during the three periods of gestation did not affect age at puberty (P<.80), estrous cycle length (P<.63) or postnatal growth (P<.60) of the heifers.

At 9, 16 and 21 mo of age, social dominance values (SDV) were determined for each heifer by 3 min random pair contests for a restricted feed source. The animal with the greatest feed source control time was awarded a win. Social dominance value was calculated as 10 times the number of wins divided by the number of competitions for each animal. Group 3 heifers had significantly greater SDV values than group 1 and 2 females (P<.03). SDV did not differ among groups at 16 mo of age (P<.59). Group 1 females had greater SDV than group 2 females at 21 mo of age (P<:.04).

At 9, 16 and 21, mo of age, sexual behavior of the heifers was characterized by exposure of the heifers to a teaser female in estrus. Sexual behavior, as indicated by the number of mounts, head placements and interest time, was lower for group 3 females compared to females in groups 1 and 2 at 9 mo of age (P<.04). There were no treatment differences for any sexual behavior variable at 16 or 21 mo of age. These results indicate that there is little potential for increasing postnatal growth or altering the estrous cyclicity of female cattle by exposure of the fetus to testosterone during the periods of gestation selected in this study. External genitalia of females were masculinized by androgen exposure during d-40 to 100 of gestation. Social dominance values were increased and sexual behavior was reduced in females by exposure to androgen during d 100 to 160 of gestation.