Development of resilience indicator traits based on daily step count data for dairy cattle breeding

Marieke Poppe*, Han A. Mulder, Mathijs L. van Pelt, Erik Mullaart, Henk Hogeveen, Roel F. Veerkamp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Resilient animals are minimally affected by disturbances, such as diseases and heat stress, and quickly recover. Daily activity data can potentially indicate resilience, because resilient animals likely keep variations due to disturbances that threat animal homeostasis at a low magnitude. We used daily step count of cows to define resilience indicators based on theory, exploratory analysis and literature, and then investigated if they can be used to genetically improve resilience by estimating heritability and repeatability, and genetic associations with other resilience-related traits, i.e. health traits, longevity, fertility, and body condition score (BCS). Results: Two groups of resilience indicators were defined: indicators describing (1) mean step count at different lactation stages for individual cows, and (2) fluctuations in step count from individual step count curves. Heritability estimates were highest for resilience indicators describing mean step count, from 0.22 for the 2-week period pre-partum to 0.45 for the whole lactation. High mean step count was consistently, but weakly, genetically correlated with good health, fertility, and longevity, and high BCS. Heritability estimates of resilience indicators describing fluctuations ranged from 0.01 for number of step count drops to 0.15 for the mean of negative residuals from individual curves. Genetic correlations with health traits, longevity, fertility, and BCS were mostly weak, but were moderate and favorable for autocorrelation of residuals (− 0.33 to − 0.44) and number of step count drops (− 0.44 to − 0.56) with hoof health, fertility, and BCS. Resilience indicators describing variability of residuals and mean of negative residuals showed strong genetic correlations with mean step count (0.86 to 0.95, absolute), which suggests that adjustment for step count level is needed. After adjustment, ‘mean of negative residuals’ was highly genetically correlated with hoof health, fertility, and BCS. Conclusions: Mean step count, autocorrelation and mean of negative residuals showed most potential as resilience indicators based on resilience theory, heritability, and genetic associations with health, fertility, and body condition score. Other resilience indicators were heritable, but had unfavorable genetic correlations with several health traits. This study is an important first step in the exploration of the use of activity data to breed more resilient livestock.

Original languageEnglish
Article number21
JournalGenetics Selection Evolution
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2022


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