• Characteristics of feed efficiency within and across lactation in dairy cows and the effect of genetic selection

      Hurley, A. M.; Lopez-Villalobos, N.; McParland, Sinead; Lewis, Eva; Kennedy, Emer; O'Donovan, Michael; Burke, Jennifer L.; Berry, Donagh; Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; European Union (Elsevier, 2017-11-23)
      The objective of the present study was to investigate the phenotypic inter- and intra-relationships within and among alternative feed efficiency metrics across different stages of lactation and parities; the expected effect of genetic selection for feed efficiency on the resulting phenotypic lactation profiles was also quantified. A total of 8,199 net energy intake (NEI) test-day records from 2,505 lactations on 1,290 cows were used. Derived efficiency traits were either ratio based or residual based; the latter were derived from least squares regression models. Residual energy intake (REI) was defined as NEI minus predicted energy requirements based on lactation performance; residual energy production (REP) was defined as net energy for lactation minus predicted energy requirements based on lactation performance. Energy conversion efficiency was defined as net energy for lactation divided by NEI. Pearson phenotypic correlations among traits were computed across lactation stages and parities, and the significance of the differences was determined using the Fisher r-to-z transformation. Sources of variation in the feed efficiency metrics were investigated using linear mixed models, which included the fixed effects of contemporary group, breed, parity, stage of lactation, and the 2-way interaction of parity by stage of lactation. With the exception of REI, parity was associated with all efficiency and production traits. Stage of lactation, as well as the 2-way interaction of parity by stage of lactation, were associated with all efficiency and production traits. Phenotypic correlations among the efficiency and production traits differed not only by stage of lactation but also by parity. For example, the strong phenotypic correlation between REI and energy balance (EB; 0.89) for cows in parity 3 or greater and early lactation was weaker for parity 1 cows at the same lactation stage (0.81), suggesting primiparous cows use the ingested energy for both milk production and growth. Nonetheless, these strong phenotypic correlations between REI and EB suggested negative REI animals (i.e., more efficient) are also in more negative EB. These correlations were further supported when assessing the effect on phenotypic performance of animals genetically divergent for feed intake and efficiency based on parental average. Animals genetically selected to have lower REI resulted in cows who consumed less NEI but were also in negative EB throughout the entire lactation. Nonetheless, such repercussions of negative EB do not imply that selection for negative REI (as defined here) should not be practiced, but instead should be undertaken within the framework of a balanced breeding objective, which includes traits such as reproduction and health.
    • Comparison of growth curves of three strains of female dairy cattle

      Berry, Donagh; Horan, Brendan; Dillon, Pat (Cambridge University Press, 2005-04)
      The objective of the present study was to compare growth curves for live weight (LW) and body size of three strains of female dairy cattle reared under common environments in Ireland. One strain (HP) was selected from a predominantly North-American/European Holstein-Friesian genetic pool selected for high milk production. The second strain (HD) represented a predominantly North-American/European Holstein-Friesian genetic pool selected for high milk production but with greater selection emphasis on functional non-production traits. The third strain (NZ) consisted of New Zealand Holstein-Friesian females of high genetic merit for profitability in New Zealand. The data consisted of 99 animals (33 animals in each strain) with records on LW, length, girth and height from birth to a minimum of 594 days of age. The von Bertalanffy growth function was fitted to each animal's records separately and least-squares analyses were used to investigate the effect of strain on birth LW/body size, parameters of the growth function and average daily gains. Average mature live weight of the HD animals (591 kg) was significantly larger than that of the HP (566 kg) or NZ (543 kg) strain; the HD strain matured more slowly. The HD (134 cm) and HP (135 cm) strains were significantly taller than the NZ (128 cm) strain. Although the data set was relatively small there are indications that dairy females of North-American genetic origin were heavier at birth, grew faster, and were heavier and taller at maturity than dairy females of New Zealand origin.
    • Cow welfare in grass based milk production systems

      Boyle, Laura; Olmos, G.; Llamas Moya, S.; Palmer, M.A.; Gleeson, David E; O'Brien, Bernadette; Horan, Brendan; Berry, Donagh; Arkins, S.; Alonso Gómez, M.; et al. (Teagasc, 2008-08-01)
      Under this project, aspects of pasture based milk production systems, namely different milking frequency and feeding strategies as well as genetic selection for improved fitness using the Irish Economic Breeding Index (EBI) were evaluated in terms of dairy cow behaviour, health, immune function and reproductive performance. Additionally, a typical Irish pasture based system was compared to one in which cows were kept indoors in cubicles and fed a total mixed ration for the duration of lactation in order to elucidate the perceived benefits of pasture based systems for dairy cow welfare.
    • Deriving economic values for national sheep breeding objectives using a bio-economic model

      Bohan, Alan; Shalloo, Laurence; Creighton, Philip; Berry, Donagh; Boland, T. M.; O'Brien, Aine; Pabiou, Thierry; Wall, E.; McDermott, Kevin; McHugh, Noirin; et al. (Elsevier, 2019-05-27)
      The economic value of a trait in a breeding objective can be defined as the value of a unit change in an individual trait, while keeping all other traits constant and are widely used in the development of breeding objectives internationally. The objective of this study was to provide a description of the development of economic values for the pertinent traits included in the Irish national sheep breeding objectives using a whole farm system bio-economic model. A total of fourteen traits of economic importance representing maternal, lambing, production and health characteristics were calculated within a whole farm bio-economic model. The model was parameterised to represent an average Irish flock of 107 ewes with a mean lambing date in early March, stocked at 7.5 ewes per hectare and weaning 1.5 lambs per ewe joined to the ram. The economic values (units in parenthesis) calculated for maternal traits were: €39.76 for number of lambs born (per lamb), €0.12 for ewe mature weight cull value (per kg), −€0.57 for ewe mature weight maintenance value (per kg), −€0.09 for ewe mature weight replacement value (per kg) and −€0.84 for ewe replacement rate (per%). The economic values calculated for lambing traits were: €54.84 for lamb surviving at birth (per lamb), −€0.27 and −€0.30 for direct lambing difficulty in single and multiple-bearing ewes, respectively (per%); the corresponding values for maternal single and multiple lambing difficulty (per%) were −€0.25 and −€0.27, respectively. The calculated economic values for production traits were: −€0.25 for days to slaughter (per day), €3.70 for carcass Conformation (per EUROP grade) and −€0.84 for carcass fat (per fat score). The economic values for health traits were: −€0.24 for ewe lameness (per%), −€0.08 for lamb lameness (per%), −€0.25 for mastitis (per%), −€0.34 for dag score (per dag score) and −€0.08 for faecal egg count (per 50 eggs/g). Within the two Irish breeding objectives, the terminal and replacement breeding objective, the greatest emphasis was placed on production traits across both the terminal (62.56%) and replacement (41.65%) breeding objectives. The maternal and lambing traits accounted for the 34.19% and 23.45% of the emphasis within the replacement breeding objective, respectively. Results from this study will enable the implementation of new economic values within the national terminal and replacement Irish sheep breeding objectives which highlights the traits of importance for increasing overall farm profitability.
    • Effect of genetic group and feed system on locomotion score, clinical lameness and hoof disorders of pasture-based Holstein–Friesian cows

      Olmos, G.; Boyle, Laura; Horan, Brendan; Berry, Donagh; O'Connor, Paula M.; Mee, John F; Hanlon, A. (Cambridge University Press, 2009-01)
      The aim of the present study was to determine the effect of the genetic group of the Holstein–Friesian (HF) and pasture-based feeding system (3 × 2 factorial arrangement) on locomotion score (six gait aspects scored from one to five), clinical lameness and hoof disorders within a seasonal calving milk production system. The three genetic groups compared had an average Economic Breeding Index (EBI) value of 40, 70 and 80: representing the Irish national average genetic merit (LOW-NA), high EBI genetic merit of North American ancestry (HIGH-NA) and high EBI genetic merit of New Zealand ancestry (HIGH-NZ), respectively. Two feed systems were compared: a high grass allowance, low-concentrate system typical of spring-calving herds in Ireland (control) and a high-concentrate system. Data from 126 cows collected across a complete lactation period were analysed using generalised estimating equations and survival analysis. Genetic group of HF had a significant effect on locomotion score, clinical lameness and hoof disorders. Higher EBI cows (HIGH-NA and HIGH-NZ) had lower hazard of poor locomotion score in some gait aspects (e.g. spine curvature) and lower odds of clinical lameness in the first 200 days post-calving (Odds ratios 0.08 and 0.24, respectively, relative to the LOW-NA) and some hoof disorders (e.g. traumatic lesions) compared with LOW-NA cows. The high-concentrate feed system showed a higher incidence and severity of digital dermatitis (P < 0.01). Thus, high EBI cows have better locomotion, fewer cases of clinical lameness and less-severe hoof disorders (i.e. digital dermatitis, white line disease and traumatic lesions) than low EBI cows. These findings have important implications for cow welfare and productivity.
    • The effect of Holstein-Friesian genotype and feeding system on selected performance parameters of dairy cows on grass-based systems of milk production in Ireland

      Dillon, Pat; O’Connor, Paula M.; McCarthy, S.; Shalloo, Laurence; Linnane, M.; Berry, Donagh; Buckley, James F.; Mee, John F; Horan, Brendan (Teagasc, 2006-01-01)
      The overall objective of this project was to assess, the effect of strain of Holstein-Friesian dairy cow, pasture-based feed system (FS) and their interaction on animal performance in terms of milk productivity and lactation profile, body weight (BW), body condition score (BCS), feed intake and energy balance (EB), reproductive performance and overall economic profitability.
    • Effect of Holstein–Friesian genetic group on peripartum and early lactation haematological and acute phase proteins profiles, health and fertility

      Olmos, G.; Boyle, Laura; Horan, Brendan; Berry, Donagh; Sayers, Riona; Hanlon, A.; Mee, John F (Cambridge University Press, 2009-07)
      Pasture-based Holstein–Friesian cows from three genetic groups differing in the Irish ‘Economic Breeding Index’ (EBI) value and genetic background, namely North-American (NA) national average EBI genetic merit (LOW-NA, n542), North-American high EBI genetic merit (HIGH-NA, n542) and New Zealand (NZ) high EBI genetic merit (HIGH-NZ, n542), were studied. These genetic groups have been selected in different environments: pasture for NZ and confinement for NA. The objective was to determine the effect of genetic group on haematological and acute phase proteins profiles (white blood cell (WBC) counts, red blood cell (RBC) counts, acute phase proteins: serum amyloid A (SAA) and haptoglobin), health (rectal temperature (RT), clinical mastitis (CM) and somatic cell score), calving performance (stillbirth, calving assistance) and post-partum reproductive parameters (endometritis and ovarian cyclicity). Blood sampling and data recording took place 3 weeks pre-calving up to 7 weeks post-calving. Linear mixed models, logistic regression and generalised estimating equations were used for data analysis. HIGH-NZ animals had the highest ( P,0.05) RBC mean corpuscular volume (50.0 fl), exhibited a different WBC distribution pattern ( P,0.05) and had the lowest ( P,0.05) mean RT (38.48C) for the first 10 days post-calving. These findings suggest enhanced reticulocyte turnover, peripartum response mechanisms and thermoregulation in the HIGH-NZ compared to the other two genetic groups. LOW-NA animals had the highest SAA peak throughout the peripartum period (55.12 mg/l, P,0.05) and a tendency for higher somatic cell scores ( P,0.10) in early lactation. The HIGH-NA animals had the lowest incidence of udder quarter milk sample bacteria at calving, suggesting better udder health when commencing lactation. No differences were detected between genetic groups in calving performance, post-partum reproductive parameters or CM in the first 42 days post-calving. These results suggest that while inherited peripartum adaptation strategies have been developed by the different genetic groups selected in different environments (pasture5NZ v. confinement5NA), such differences have minimal impact on peripartum clinical health.
    • Factors associated with the financial performance of spring-calving, pasture-based dairy farms

      Ramsbottom, George; Horan, Brendan; Berry, Donagh; Roche, John R. (Elsevier for American Dairy Science Association, 2015-03)
      As land becomes a limiting resource for pasture-based dairy farming, the inclusion of purchased supplementary feeds to increase milk production per cow (through greater dry matter intake) and per hectare (through increased stocking rate) is often proposed as a strategy to increase profitability. Although a plausible proposition, virtually no analysis has been done on the effect of such intensification on the profitability of commercial pasture-based dairy farm businesses. The objective of this study was to characterize the average physical and financial performance of dairy systems differing in the proportion of the cow’s diet coming from grazed pasture versus purchased supplementary feeds over 4 yr, while accounting for any interaction with geographic region. Physical, genetic, and financial performance data from 1,561 seasonal-calving, pasture-based dairy farms in Ireland were available between the years 2008 and 2011; data from some herds were available for more than 1 yr of the 4-yr study period, providing data from 2,759 dairy farm-years. The data set was divided into geographic regions, based on latitude, rainfall, and soil characteristics that relate to drainage; these factors influence the length of the pasture growth season and the timing of turnout to pasture in spring and rehousing in autumn. Farms were also categorized by the quantity of feed purchased; farms in which cows received <10, 11–20, 21–30, or >30% of their annual feed requirements from purchased feed were considered to be categories representative of increasing levels of system intensification. Geographic region was associated with differences in grazing days, pasture harvested per hectare, milk production per cow and per hectare, and farm profitability. Farms in regions with longer grazing seasons harvested a greater amount of pasture [an additional 19 kg of dry matter (DM)/ha per grazing day per hectare], and greater pasture harvested was associated with increased milk component yield per hectare (58.4 kg of fat and 51.4 kg of protein more per tonne of DM pasture harvested/ha) and net profit per hectare (€268/ha more per tonne of DM harvested). Milk yield and yield of milk components per cow and per hectare increased linearly with increased use of purchased feed (additional 30.6 kg of milk fat and 26.7 kg of milk protein per tonne of DM purchased feed per hectare), but, on average, pasture harvested/hectare and net profit/hectare declined (−0.60 t of DM/ha and −€78.2/ha, respectively) with every tonne of DM supplementary feed purchased per hectare. The results indicate an effect of purchased feeds not usually accounted for in marginal economic analyses (e.g., milk to feed price ratio): the decline in pasture harvested/hectare, with the costs of producing the unutilized pasture in addition to the cost of feed resulting in a lower profit. In conclusion, greater milk component yields per cow were associated with increased profit per hectare, and a greater use of purchased feeds was associated with an increase in the yield of milk components. However, on average, increasing yield of milk components through the supply of purchased feeds to pasture-based cows was associated with a decline in pasture harvested per hectare and profitability. The decline in pasture harvested per hectare with increased use of purchased supplements per cow is probably the primary reason for the low milk production response and the failure to capitalize on the potential benefits of purchased supplements, with the associated costs of growing the unutilized pasture, in conjunction with increased nonfeed variable and fixed costs outweighing the increased milk production and revenue from supplementation. Farmers considering intensification through use of purchased supplements to increase the stock-carrying capacity of the farm (i.e., stocking rate) must ensure that they focus on management of pasture and total cost control to capture the potential benefits of supplementary feed use.
    • Genetic parameters of dairy cow energy intake and body energy status predicted using mid-infrared spectrometry of milk

      McParland, Sinead; Kennedy, Emer; Lewis, Eva; Moore, Stephen; McCarthy, Brian; O'Donovan, Michael; Berry, Donagh; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Ireland; European Commission; Marie Curie project International Research Staff Exchange Scheme SEQSEL; et al. (Elsevier for American Dairy Science Association, 2014-12)
      Energy balance (EB) and energy intake (EI) are heritable traits of economic importance. Despite this, neither trait is explicitly included in national dairy cow breeding goals due to a lack of routinely available data from which to compute reliable breeding values. Mid-infrared (MIR) spectrometry, which is performed during routine milk recording, is an accurate predictor of both EB and EI. The objective of this study was to estimate genetic parameters of EB and EI predicted using MIR spectrometry. Measured EI and EB were available for 1,102 Irish Holstein-Friesian cows based on actual feed intake and energy sink data. A subset of these data (1,270 test-day records) was used to develop equations to predict EI, EB, and daily change in body condition score (ΔBCS) and body weight (ΔBW) using the MIR spectrum with or without milk yield also as a predictor variable. Accuracy of cross-validation of the prediction equations was 0.75, 0.73, 0.77, and 0.70 for EI, EB, ΔBCS, and ΔBW, respectively. Prediction equations were applied to additional spectral data, yielding up to 94,653 records of MIR-predicted EI, EB, ΔBCS, and ΔBW available for variance component estimation. Variance components were estimated using repeatability animal linear mixed models. Heritabilities of MIR-predicted EI, EB, ΔBCS, and ΔBW were 0.20, 0.10, 0.07, and 0.06, respectively; heritability estimates of the respective measured traits were 0.35, 0.16, 0.07, and 0.08, respectively. The genetic correlation between measured and MIR-predicted EI was 0.84 and between measured and MIR-predicted EB was 0.54, indicating that selection based on MIR-predicted EI or EB would improve true EI or EB. Genetic and phenotypic associations between EI and both the milk production and body-change traits were generally in agreement, regardless of whether measured EI or MIR-predicted EI was considered. Higher-yielding animals of higher body weight had greater EI. Predicted EB was negatively genetically correlated with milk yield (genetic correlation = −0.29) and positively genetically correlated with both milk fat and protein percent (genetic correlation = 0.17 and 0.16, respectively). Least squares means phenotypic EI of 198 animals stratified as low, average, and high estimated breeding values for MIR-predicted EI (animal phenotypes were not included in the genetic evaluation) were 154.3, 156.0, and 163.3 MJ/d, corroborating that selection on MIR-predicted EI will, on average, result in differences in phenotypic true EI.
    • Infrared thermography as a tool to detect hoof lesions in sheep

      Byrne, Daire T; Berry, Donagh; Esmonde, Harold; McGovern, Fiona; Creighton, Philip; McHugh, Noirin; Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine; RSF 11/S/133 (Oxford University Press (OUP), 2018-12-08)
      Lameness has a major negative impact on sheep production. The objective of this study was to 1) quantify the repeatability of sheep hoof temperatures estimated using infrared thermography (IRT); 2) determine the relationship between ambient temperature, sheep hoof temperature, and sheep hoof health status; and 3) validate the use of IRT to detect infection in sheep hooves. Three experiments (a repeatability, exploratory, and validation experiment) were conducted over 10 distinct nonconsecutive days. In the repeatability experiment, 30 replicate thermal images were captured from each of the front and back hooves of nine ewes on a single day. In the exploratory experiment, hoof lesion scores, locomotion scores, and hoof thermal images were recorded every day from the same cohort of 18 healthy ewes in addition to a group of lame ewes, which ranged from one to nine ewes on each day. Hoof lesion and locomotion scores were blindly recorded by three independent operators. In the validation experiment, all of the same procedures from the exploratory experiment were applied to a new cohort of 40 ewes across 2 d. The maximum and average temperature of each hoof was extracted from the thermal images. Repeatability of IRT measurements was assessed by partitioning the variance because of ewe and error using mixed models. The relationship between ambient temperature, hoof temperature, and hoof health status was quantified using mixed models. The percentage of hooves correctly classified as healthy (i.e., specificity) and infected (i.e., sensitivity) was calculated for a range of temperature thresholds. Results showed that a small-to-moderate proportion of the IRT-estimated temperature variability in a given hoof was due to error (1.6% to 20.7%). A large temperature difference (8.5 °C) between healthy and infected hooves was also detected. The maximum temperature of infected hooves was unaffected by ambient temperature (P > 0.05), whereas the temperature of healthy hooves was associated with ambient temperature. The best sensitivity (92%) and specificity (91%) results in the exploratory experiment were observed when infected hooves were defined as having a maximum hoof temperature ≥9 °C above the average of the five coldest hooves in the flock on that day. When the same threshold was applied to the validation dataset, a sensitivity of 77% and specificity of 78% was achieved, indicating that IRT could have the potential to detect infection in sheep hooves.
    • Relationship between dairy cow genetic merit and profit on commercial spring calving dairy farms

      Ramsbottom, George; Cromie, A. R.; Horan, Brendan; Berry, Donagh (Cambridge University Press, 2011-12)
      Because not all animal factors influencing profitability can be included in total merit breeding indices for profitability, the association between animal total merit index and true profitability, taking cognisance of all factors associated with costs and revenues, is generally not known. One method to estimate such associations is at the herd level, associating herd average genetic merit with herd profitability. The objective of this study was to primarily relate herd average genetic merit for a range of traits, including the Irish total merit index, with indicators of performance, including profitability, using correlation and multiple regression analyses. Physical, genetic and financial performance data from 1131 Irish seasonal calving pasture-based dairy farms were available following edits; data on some herds were available for more than 1 year of the 3-year study period (2007 to 2009). Herd average economic breeding index (EBI) was associated with reduced herd average phenotypic milk yield but with greater milk composition, resulting in higher milk prices. Moderate positive correlations (0.26 to 0.61) existed between genetic merit for an individual trait and average herd performance for that trait (e.g. genetic merit for milk yield and average per cow milk yield). Following adjustment for year, stocking rate, herd size and quantity of purchased feed in the multiple regression analysis, average herd EBI was positively and linearly associated with net margin per cow and per litre as well as gross revenue output per cow and per litre. The change in net margin per cow per unit change in the total merit index was h1.94 (s.e.50.42), which was not different from the expectation of h2. This study, based on a large data set of commercial herds with accurate information on profitability and genetic merit, confirms that, after accounting for confounding factors, the change in herd profitability per unit change in herd genetic merit for the total merit index is within expectations.