Feed efficiency (FE), characterized as the fraction of feed nutrients converted into salable milk or meat, is of increasing economic importance in the dairy industry. We conjecture that FE is a complex trait whose variation and relationships or partial efficiencies (PE) involving the conversion of dry matter intake to milk energy and metabolic body weight may be highly heterogeneous across environments or management scenarios. In this study, a hierarchical Bayesian multivariate mixed model was proposed to jointly infer upon such heterogeneity at both genetic and nongenetic levels on PE and variance components (VC). The heterogeneity was modeled by embedding mixed effects specifications on PE and VC in addition to those directly specified on the component traits. We validated the model by simulation and applied it to a joint analysis of a dairy FE consortium data set with 5,088 Holstein cows from 13 research stations in Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Although no differences were detected among research stations for PE at the genetic level, some evidence was found of heterogeneity in residual PE. Furthermore, substantial heterogeneity in VC across stations, parities, and ration was observed with heritability estimates of FE ranging from 0.16 to 0.46 across stations.
- dry matter intake
- genetic correlation
- hierarchical Bayesian modeling