Infertility in dairy cattle is a multifactorial problem that may be linked to follicle development and the quality of the ovulated oocyte, to sperm transport and fertilization, to the reproductive tract environment, or to a combination of these factors. Using a state-of-the-art endoscopic embryo transfer technique, the aim of this study was to compare the ability of the reproductive tract of postpartum dairy cows and nulliparous heifers to support the development of early embryos to the blastocyst stage. Bovine embryos of 2 to 4 cells (n=1,800) were produced by in vitro maturation and fertilization of oocytes derived from the ovaries of slaughtered cattle. The estrus cycles of nulliparous Holstein heifers (n=10) and postpartum Holstein cows (n=8, approximately 60 d postpartum) were synchronized using an 8-d controlled internal drug release device coupled with prostaglandin injection. On d 2, one hundred 2- to 4-cell embryos were endoscopically transferred to the oviduct ipsilateral to the corpus luteum. Five days later, on d 7, the oviduct and uterus were flushed nonsurgically to recover the embryos. The number of embryos developing to the blastocyst stage was recorded immediately at recovery and following overnight culture in vitro. A representative number of blastocysts from heifers and cows were stained to assess cell number. Progesterone concentrations were lower in cows than in heifers on d 5, 6, and 7 (d 7=2.39+/-0.33 vs. 5.34+/-0.77ng/mL, respectively). More embryos were recovered from heifers than cows (79.0+/-7.0 vs. 57.2+/-11.4%). Of the embryos recovered, 33.9+/-3.6% had developed to the blastocyst stage in the heifer oviduct compared with 18.3+/-7.9% in the postpartum cow oviduct. There was no evidence of a difference in blastocyst quality as evidenced by total cell number in the blastocysts (71.2+/-5.7 vs. 67.0+/-5.3, respectively). In conclusion, the reproductive tract of the postpartum lactating dairy cow may be less capable of supporting early embryo development than that of the nonlactating heifer, and this may contribute to the lower conception rates observed in such animals.