Genetic and phenotypic relationships among fifteen measures of reproduction in dairy cattle

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Reproductive data from 30 research herds were on 31,132 breeding periods of 11,347 dairy cows. Cows were sired by 1,101 sires and had 66,184 services to 1,320 service sires. Several measures of reproductive pe.rformance were calculated. These included conception rate, number of services, service period length, days open, age at first breeding, calving interval, days between services, and return to estrus lag. First, second and third service period were each analyzed separately, while fourth and later service periods were pooled.

Heritability was estimated using the sire component of variance and the estimate of the total variance derived from MIVQUEO and maximum likelihood analyses. The data set was restricted to daughters of sires used in multiple herds. Heritability estimates were less than .07 for all traits in the heifer service period except age at first breeding (.2 by maximum likelihood and .13 by MIVQUEO). Similarly, with the exception of conception rate, none of the measures of reproduction had heritabilities greater than .05 for all three remaining service period groups. Conception rate measured as a trait of the male (service sire) ranged from .08 to .135 for second and third service periods. Conception rate as female trait (sire) had heritabilities ranging from .09 to .249 for second and third service periods.

Low heritability estimates obtained in this and other studies suggest that large progeny or service sire groups will be necessary to identify the small genetic differences between bulls.

Many genetic and phenotypic correlations were forced positive due to a part-whole relationship or due to the fact they were simply different bounds for the same measure. A few correlations were in the range from .50 to .90, but many were not significantly different from zero due to large approximate standard errors.

Repeatabilities based upon pairwise comparisons were in the range from 0 to .13. Repeatabilities for the reproductive performance of virgin heifers with first parity ranged from .01 to .06 and were generally smaller than later parities. Repeatabilities based upon repeated measures on the same cow ranged from 0 to .12.

Predicted Differences for female (sire) and male (service sire) reproduction were calculated by Best Linear Unbiased Prediction. This analysis included 207 bulls which were in the data both as sire and service sire. Correlations between proofs for male and female reproduction ranged from -.13 to .13. These results suggest limited genetic relationships between male and female fertility.