Associations among descriptors of herd management and phenotypic and genetic levels of health and fertility

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The objective of this paper was to investigate the association of descriptors of herd environment with phenotypic levels and breeding values of fertility and health traits. Analyses were performed for 82,080 first-lactation heifers and 173,787 multiparous cows. Fourteen environmental parameters were defined that described herd environment, such as average protein production, average somatic cell score (SCS), average calving interval, and average body condition score (BCS). Herds with lower average SCS had, in general, more desirable values for almost all analyzed traits (i.e., days to first service was 7 d shorter), as did herds with lower average calving interval (i.e., 2.8% lower incidence of predicted mastitis). Herds with higher average protein production had slightly poorer fertility but more desirable values for all other analyzed traits (i.e., 5.1% less predicted mastitis, 0.4 lower SCS, and 0.6 higher BCS). Variance components and breeding values of sires were estimated by applying a random regression on the environmental parameters. In general, genetic variances varied generally only slightly across environments. However, based on data exclusively for heifers, the genetic variance for number of inseminations was 4.1 times higher in herds with a higher number of inseminations, 1.9 times higher for survival in herds with higher fat to protein ratio, and 1.7 times higher for predicted mastitis in herds with higher number of inseminations. Based on the heifer data, the lowest estimated genetic correlation across environments was 0.76 (SE 0.21) for first-service conception between herds with differing average BCS. The minimum based on the cow data was 0.65 (SE 0.10) for survival between herds with differing average ages at calving. The relative importance of some fertility traits compared with yield traits doubled across environments. Possible reranking of individual animals within a population and the changes in genetic variance across environments suggests that environment-specific breeding values should be estimated for use in customized selection indices
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2178-2189
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • somatic-cell count
  • dairy-cattle
  • environment interaction
  • milk-production
  • production diseases
  • clinical mastitis
  • reaction norms
  • genotype
  • selection
  • traits


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