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J Dairy Sci. 2011 Dec;94(12):6162-72. doi: 10.3168/jds.2011-4661.

Genetic analysis of fertility in the Italian Brown Swiss population using different models and trait definitions.

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Department of Animal Science, University of Padova, Viale dell'Università 16, 35020 Legnaro-PD, Italy.


The aim of this study was to estimate genetic parameters for fertility and production traits in the Brown Swiss population reared in the Alps (Bolzano-Bozen province, Italy). Fertility indicators were interval from parturition to first service, interval from first service to conception (iFC), and interval from parturition to conception, either expressed as days and as number of potential 21-d estrus cycles (cPF, cFC, and cPC, respectively); number of inseminations to conception; conception rate at first service; and non-return rate at 56 d post-first service. Production traits were peak milk yield, lactation milk yield, lactation length, average lactation protein percentage, and average lactation fat percentage. Data included 71,556 lactations (parities 1 to 9) from 29,582 cows reared in 1,835 herds. Animals calved from 1999 to 2007 and were progeny of 491 artificial insemination bulls. Gibbs sampling and Metropolis algorithms were implemented to obtain (co)variance components using both univariate and bivariate censored threshold and linear sire models. All of the analyses accounted for parity and year-month of calving as fixed effects, and herd, permanent environmental cow, additive genetic sire, and residual as random effects. Heritability estimates for fertility traits ranged from 0.030 (iFC) to 0.071 (cPC). Strong genetic correlations were estimated between interval from parturition to first service and cPF (0.97), and interval from parturition to conception and cPC (0.96). The estimate of heritability for cFC (0.055) was approximately double compared with iFC (0.030), suggesting that measuring the elapsed time between first service and conception in days or potential cycles is not equivalent; this was also confirmed by the genetic correlation between iFC and cFC, which was strong (0.85), but more distant from unity than the other 2 pairs of fertility traits. Genetic correlations between number of inseminations to conception, conception rate at first service, non-return rate at 56 d post-first service, cPF, cFC, and cPC ranged from 0.07 to 0.82 as absolute value. Fertility was unfavorably correlated with production; estimates ranged from -0.26 (cPC with protein percentage) to 0.76 (cPC with lactation length), confirming the genetic antagonism between reproductive efficiency and milk production. Although heritability for fertility is low, the contemporary inclusion of several reproductive traits in a merit index would help to improve performance of dairy cows.

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