• Additive genetic, non-additive genetic and permanent environmental effects for female reproductive performance in seasonal calving dairy females

      Kelleher, Margaret M.; Buckley, Frank; Evans, R. D.; Berry, Donagh; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Ireland (Teagasc (Agriculture and Food Development Authority), Ireland, 2016-09-08)
      Excellent reproductive performance (i.e. 365-day calving interval) is paramount to herd profit in seasonal-calving dairy systems. Reproductive targets are currently not being achieved in Irish dairy herds. Furthermore, most research on the genetics of reproductive performance in dairy cattle has focused primarily on lactating cows and relatively few studies have attempted to quantify the genetic contribution to differences in reproductive performance in nulliparae. The objective of the present study was to estimate the contribution of both the additive and non-additive genetic components, as well as the permanent environmental component, to phenotypic variation in the reproductive traits in nulliparous, primiparous and multiparous seasonal-calving dairy females. Reproductive phenotypes were available on up to 202,525 dairy females. Variance components were estimated using (repeatability where appropriate) linear animal mixed models; fixed effects included in the mixed models were contemporary group, parity (where appropriate), breed proportion, inter-breed specific heterosis coefficients and inter-breed specific recombination loss coefficients. Heritability of the reproductive traits ranged from 0.004 (pregnancy rate to first service) to 0.17 (age at first service in nulliparae), while repeatability estimates for the reproductive traits in cows ranged from 0.01 (calving interval) to 0.11 (pregnant in the first 42 days of the breeding season). Breed-specific heterosis regression coefficients suggest that, relative to the parental mean, a first-cross Holstein–Jersey crossbred was almost 7 days younger at first calving, had a 9-day shorter calving interval, a 6 percentage unit greater pregnancy rate in the first 42 days of the breeding season and a 3 percentage unit greater survival rate to next lactation. Heifer calving rate traits were strongly genetically correlated with age at first calving (–0.97 to –0.66) and calving rate in the first 42 days of the calving season for first parity cows (0.77 to 0.56), but genetic correlations with other cow reproductive traits were weak and inconsistent. Calving interval was strongly genetically correlated with the majority of the cow traits; 56%, 40%, and 92% of the genetic variation in calving interval was explained by calving to the first service interval, number of services and pregnant in the first 42 days of the breeding season, respectively. Permanent environmental correlations between the reproductive performance traits were generally moderate to strong. The existence of contributions from non-additive genetic and permanent environmental effects to phenotypic differences among cows suggests the usefulness of such information to rank cows on future expected performance; this was evidenced by a stronger correlation with future reproductive performance for an individual cow index that combined additive genetic, non-additive genetic and permanent environmental effects compared to an index based solely on additive genetic effects (i.e. estimated breeding values).
    • Development of an index to rank dairy females on expected lifetime profit

      Kelleher, Margaret M.; Amer, P. R.; Shalloo, Laurence; Evans, R. D.; Byrne, T. J.; Buckley, Frank; Berry, Donagh (Elsevier for American Dairy Science Association, 2015-03)
      The objective of this study was to develop an index to rank dairy females on expected profit for the remainder of their lifetime, taking cognizance of both additive and nonadditive genetic merit, permanent environmental effects, and current states of the animal including the most recent calving date and cow parity. The cow own worth (COW) index is intended to be used for culling the expected least profitable females in a herd, as well as inform purchase and pricing decisions for trading of females. The framework of the COW index consisted of the profit accruing from (1) the current lactation, (2) future lactations, and (3) net replacement cost differential. The COW index was generated from estimated performance values (sum of additive genetic merit, nonadditive genetic merit, and permanent environmental effects) of traits, their respective net margin values, and transition probability matrices for month of calving, survival, and somatic cell count; the transition matrices were to account for predicted change in a cow’s state in the future. Transition matrices were generated from 3,156,109 lactation records from the Irish national database between the years 2010 and 2013. Phenotypic performance records for 162,981 cows in the year 2012 were used to validate the COW index. Genetic and permanent environmental effects (where applicable) were available for these cows from the 2011 national genetic evaluations and used to calculate the COW index and their national breeding index values (includes only additive genetic effects). Cows were stratified per quartile within herd, based on their COW index value and national breeding index value. The correlation between individual animal COW index value and national breeding index value was 0.65. Month of calving of the cow in her current lactation explained 18% of the variation in the COW index, with the parity of the cow explaining an additional 3 percentage units of the variance in the COW index. Females ranking higher on the COW index yielded more milk and milk solids and calved earlier in the calving season than their lower ranking contemporaries. The difference in phenotypic performance between the best and worst quartiles was larger for cows ranked on COW index than cows ranked on the national breeding index. The COW index is useful to rank females before culling or purchasing decisions on expected profit and is complementary to the national breeding index, which identifies the most suitable females for breeding replacements.