Genetic analysis of resilience indicators based on milk yield records in different lactations and at different lactation stages

M. Poppe*, G. Bonekamp, M.L. van Pelt, H.A. Mulder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Resilience is the ability of cows to cope with disturbances, such as pathogens or heat waves. To breed for improved resilience, it is important to know whether resilience genetically changes throughout life. Therefore, the aim was to perform a genetic analysis on 2 resilience indicators based on data from 3 periods of the first lactation (d 11–110, 111–210, and 211–340) and the first 3 full lactations, and to estimate genetic correlations with health traits. The resilience indicators were the natural log-transformed variance (LnVar) and lag-1 autocorrelation (rauto) of daily deviations in milk yield from an expected lactation curve. Low LnVar and rauto indicate low variability in daily milk yield and quick recovery, and were expected to indicate good resilience. Data of 200,084 first, 155,784 second, and 89,990 third lactations were used. Heritabilities were similar based on different lactation periods (0.12–0.15 for LnVar, 0.05–0.06 for rauto). However, the heritabilities of the resilience indicators based on full first lactation were higher than those based on lactation periods (0.20 for LnVar, 0.08 for rauto), due to lower residual variances. Heritabilities decreased from 0.20 in full lactation 1 to 0.19 in full lactation 3 for LnVar and from 0.08 to 0.06 for rauto. For LnVar, as well as for rauto, the strongest genetic correlation between lactation periods was between period 2 and 3 (0.97 for LnVar, 0.96 for rauto) and the weakest between period 1 and 3 (0.81 for LnVar, 0.65 for rauto). Similarly, for both traits the genetic correlation between full lactations was strongest between lactations 2 and 3 (0.99 for LnVar, 0.95 for rauto) and weakest between lactations 1 and 3 (0.91 for LnVar, 0.71 for rauto). For LnVar, genetic correlations with resilience-related traits, such as udder health, ketosis, and longevity, adjusted for correlations with milk yield, were almost always favorable (−0.59 to 0.02). In most cases these genetic correlations were stronger based on full lactations than on lactation periods. Genetic correlations were similar across full lactations, but the correlation with udder health increased substantially from −0.31 in lactation 1 to −0.51 in lactation 3. For rauto, genetic correlations with resilience-related traits were always favorable in lactation period 1 and in most full lactations, but not in the other lactation periods. However, correlations were weak (−0.27 to 0.15). Therefore, as a resilience indicator for breeding, LnVar is preferred over rauto. A multitrait index based on estimated breeding values for LnVar in lactations 1, 2, and 3 is recommended to improve resilience throughout the lifetime of a cow.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1967-1981
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • dairy cow
  • genetics
  • lactation stage
  • resilience


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