Reproductive Tract Scores
The reproductive tract scoring (RTS) system was developed to assist beef producers in the selection of herd replacements and to support the timing of estrous synchronization programs (Patterson et al., 2013). The RTS system is used to estimate pubertal status. Scores are subjective estimates of sexual maturity, based on ovarian follicular development and palpable size of the uterus.
Research has shown that RTS is a predictor of heifer fertility, compares well with other traits used as predictors of production outcomes, and is likely to be a good predictor of lifetime production of the cow (Pence and BreDahl, 1998; Pence et al., 2007; Holm et al., 2009). Recently, RTS has been found to correlate with artificial insemination pregnancy rate following fixed-time insemination (Patterson and Thomas, 2019).
An RTS of 1 (see Table 1) is assigned to heifers with infantile tracts, as indicated by small, toneless uterine horns and small ovaries devoid of significant structures. Heifers scored with a RTS of 1 are likely the furthest from reaching puberty at the time of examination. Heifers assigned a RTS of 2 are thought to be closer to puberty than those scoring 1, primarily due to larger uterine horns and ovaries. Those heifers assigned an RTS of 3 are thought to be on the verge of estrous cyclicity based on uterine tone and the presence of palpable follicles. Heifers assigned a score of 4 are considered to be estrous cycling as indicated by uterine tone and size, coiling of the uterine horns, as well as the presence of a preovulatory size follicle. Heifers assigned a score of 4 do not have an easily distinguished corpus luteum. Heifers with a RTS of 5 are similar to those scoring 4, except for the presence of a palpable corpus luteum. Prebreeding examinations that include RTS furnish the opportunity to assess reproductive development, but further provide an appraisal of possible aberrant situations that may detract from a heifer’s subsequent reproductive potential.
Table 1. Reproductive tract scores (RTS; Anderson et al., 1991)
|RTS||Reproductive status||Uterine horns||Ovarian length (mm)||Ovarian height (mm)||Ovarian width (mm)||Ovarian structures|
|1||Prepubertal, infantile tract||Immature, < 20 mm diameter, no tone||15||10||8||No palpable follicles|
|2||Prepubertal, > 30 days to puberty onset||20-25 mm diameter, no tone||18||12||10||8 mm follicles|
|3||Peripubertal, < 30 days to puberty onset||20-25 mm diameter, slight tone||22||15||10||8-10 mm follicles|
|4||Pubertal, follicular phase||30 mm diameter, good tone||30||16||12||10 mm follicles, CL possible|
|5||Pubertal, luteal phase||> 30 mm diameter||>32||20||15||CL present|
Reproductive tract scoring is a repeatable (between and within veterinarians) and accurate (sensitivity = 82% and specificity = 69%) measure of pubertal status in heifers (Rosenkrans and Hardin, 2003). Prebreeding evaluations that include assignment of reproductive tract scores and pelvic measurements should be performed four to six weeks prior to the scheduled start of the breeding season. This timing provides a check on the development status of heifers, and allows time to provide adjustments to nutritional programs when needed. Beef heifers in many cases are placed on estrous synchronization protocols to facilitate use of artificial insemination during the first breeding season.
A standard measure of success of the postweaning to prebreeding period is when a minimum of 50% of the heifers in a given group are estrous cycling based on RTS. This benchmark indicates that heifers are adequately developed and ready to be placed on an estrous synchronization protocol and that acceptable pregnancy rates can be expected. At the time RTS are assigned, pelvic measurements should also be obtained and results of these two measures of development should be considered in total (Patterson and Bullock, 1995). This practice allows for better determination of the appropriate estrous synchronization protocol to use and at the same time provides critical information in situations where troubleshooting may be required.
The reproductive tract scoring system is an effective management tool to avoid attempting to breed immature heifers.
Anderson, K. J., D. G. LeFever, J. S. Brinks, and K. G. Odde. 1991. The use of reproductive tract scoring in beef heifers. Agri-Practice 12:19–26.
Gutierrez, K., R. Kasimanickam, A.Tibary, J. M. Gay, J. P. Kastelic, J. B. Hall, and W. D. Whittier. 2014. Effect of reproductive tract scoring on reproductive efficiency in beef heifers bred by timed insemination and natural service versus only natural service. Theriogenology. 81(7):918-924.
Holm, D. E., P. N. Thompson, and P. C. Irons. 2009. The value of reproductive tract scoring as a predictor of fertility and production outcomes in beef heifers. J. Anim. Sci. 87:1934–1940.
Patterson, D. J., and K. D. Bullock. 1995. Using prebreeding weight, reproductive tract score and pelvic area to evaluate prebreeding development of replacement beef heifers. Proc. Beef Improvement Federation Meeting. Sheridan, WY. pp. 174-177.
Patterson, D. J., D. S. Brown, W. J. Sexten, J. E. Decker, and S. E. Poock. 2013. Management Strategies for Adding Value to Replacement Beef Heifers: A Working Model. Vet. Clin. North Am. Food Anim. Pract. 29:653–666.
Patterson, D. J., and J. M. Thomas. 2019. Control of estrus and ovulation in beef heifers and cows. Theriogenology. In press.
Pence, M., and R. BreDahl. 1998. Clinical use of reproductive tract scoring to predict pregnancy outcome. In: Proc. 31st Annu. Con. AABP. Am. Assoc. Bov. Pract., Spokane, WA. p. 259–260.
Pence, M., D. Ensley, R. Berghaus, J. Rossi, T. Wilson, and P. T. Cannon. 2007. Improving reproductive efficiency through the use of reproductive tract scoring in a group of beef replacement heifers. Bov. Pract. 41:35.
Rosenkrans, K. S., and D. K. Hardin. 2003. Repeatability and accuracy of reproductive tract scoring to determine pubertal status in beef heifers. Theriogenology 59:1087–1092.