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J Dairy Sci. 2008 Dec;91(12):4860-70. doi: 10.3168/jds.2008-1355.

The use of data from sampling for bacteriology for genetic selection against clinical mastitis.

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Animal Sciences Group, PO Box 65, NL-8200 AB Lelystad, the Netherlands.


One breeding objective of Dutch cattle breeders is to improve genetic resistance against clinical and subclinical mastitis. Because of a lack of direct mastitis information, udder health breeding values are based on indirect traits. Inclusion of direct information on clinical mastitis could improve reliability of breeding values. The aim of this study was to investigate whether data from milk samples sent in for bacteriology are potential sources of information for the occurrence of mastitis, which may be used in animal breeding, and if so how this data can be used. Although there are 2 separate flows of milk samples for bacteriology in the Netherlands, it was not considered necessary to account for the origin of the samples. In both flows, the majority of the samples are visually normal and flow-specific traits are highly correlated. Therefore, information from these flows is combined for genetic analysis. Nearly two-thirds of the bacteriology data could be linked to milk recording and pedigree records. Relatively few farmers (<3%) took 5 or more samples for bacteriology between January 1, 2003, and March 31, 2006. Their herds had, on average, greater milk production and lower cell counts than herds for which no samples were taken. However, the range and variation within both groups of herds for these variables was similar and there was a large overlap in sires used within both groups. Whether or not samples were taken for bacteriology turned out to be a potentially useful indicator for clinical mastitis at the cow level, because this trait had a strong positive genetic correlation with clinical mastitis registered by farmers (0.84 or 0.89, depending on the data set) and similar heritability (2%) and genetic variation. Also, genetic correlations of bacteriology with SCC traits were similar to those for farmer-registered clinical mastitis. An important advantage of these bacteriology data is that they are already collected routinely and stored in a central database in the Netherlands; this is not the case for registration of clinical cases. Thus, data from bacteriological culturing can be used for genetic improvement of udder health.

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