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J Dairy Sci. 2012 Dec;95(12):7355-62. doi: 10.3168/jds.2012-5775. Epub 2012 Oct 11.

Genetic parameters for fertility of dairy heifers and cows at different parities and relationships with production traits in first lactation.

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Department of Agronomy, Food, Natural Resources, Animals and Environment, University of Padova, Legnaro (PD), Italy.


The objectives of this study were to estimate genetic parameters for fertility of Brown Swiss cattle, considering reproductive measures in different parities as different traits, and to estimate relationships between production traits of first lactation and fertility of heifers and first-parity and second-parity cows. Reproductive indicators were interval from parturition to first service, interval from first service to conception, interval from parturition to conception, number of inseminations to conception, conception rate at first service, and nonreturn rate at 56 d after first service. Production traits were peak milk yield (pMY), lactation milk yield, and lactation length (LL). Data included 37,546 records on heifers, and 24,098 and 15,653 records on first- and second-parity cows, respectively. Cows were reared in 2,035 herds, calved from 1999 to 2007, and were progeny of 527 AI bulls. Gibbs sampling was implemented to obtain (co)variance components using both univariate and bivariate threshold and censored linear sire models. Estimates of heritability for reproductive traits in heifers (0.016 to 0.026) were lower than those in first-parity (0.017 to 0.142) and second-parity (0.026 to 0.115) cows. Genetic correlations for fertility in first- and second-parity cows were very high (>0.920), whereas those between heifers and lactating cows were moderate (0.348 to 0.709). The latter result indicates that fertility in heifers is a different trait than fertility in lactating cows, and hence it cannot be used as robust indicator of cow fertility. Heifer fertility was not related to production traits in first lactation (genetic correlations between -0.215 and 0.251). Peak milk yield exerted a moderate and unfavorable effect on the interval from parturition to first service (genetic correlations of 0.414 and 0.353 after first and second calving, respectively), and a low and unfavorable effect on other fertility traits (genetic correlations between -0.281 and 0.295). Infertility after first calving caused a strong elongation of the lactation, and LL was negatively correlated with fertility of cows after second calving, so that LL can itself be regarded as a measure of fertility. Lactation milk yield depends on both pMY and LL, and, as such, is a cause and consequence of (in)fertility.

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