We have used milk progesterone analysis to monitor reproductive function in lactating dairy cows and have then related this reproductive function to a variety of metabolic variables. Monitoring of cows (n = 41) during the period of onset of luteal function (first milk progesterone reading > 5 ng/ml) revealed that delayed onset was associated with increased milk yield and greater loss of body weight and body condition but was not related to plasma metabolite or leptin concentrations. Further monitoring of reproductive function in these 41 cows and an additional 33 cows (total n = 74) during the mating period (from weeks 6 to 14 postpartum) identified reproductive cycle abnormalities in 29 (39.2% of animals). The occurrence of cycle abnormalities was associated with increased milk yield (P < 0.05), elevated plasma beta hydroxybutyrate (P < 0.05) and reduced plasma leptin (P < 0.01) concentrations as well as a lower (P < 0.05) rate of gain of body weight and condition score but was not associated with plasma urea or glucose concentrations. Furthermore, cows exhibiting cycle abnormalities had a longer (P < 0.01) interval to first service and a smaller percentage had conceived by 100 days post partum (34.5 % versus 66.7%; P < 0.01). These results provide further evidence that impaired reproductive function during the post partum period in dairy cows is caused by a poor energy status and not elevated urea concentrations. Reduced plasma leptin concentrations in animals suffering reproductive dysfunction further supports this view. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V All rights reserved.