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J Dairy Sci. 2019 Jul;102(7):6624-6638. doi: 10.3168/jds.2018-15205. Epub 2019 Apr 25.

Genomic merit for reproductive traits. I: Estrous characteristics and fertility in Holstein heifers.

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Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32610.
Merck Animal Health, Madison, NJ 07940.
Department of Animal Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32610.
Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32610; Department of Animal Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville 32610. Electronic address:


Genetic selection of dairy cattle in the United States has included reproductive traits (daughter pregnancy rate, DPR; heifer conception rate, HCR), which is believed to have partly contributed to halting the decline in reproductive performance. The objectives of the current study were to evaluate the association among genomic merit for DPR (GDPR) and HCR (GHCR) with estrous characteristics measured by an automated device. Holstein heifers (n = 1,005) were genotyped at 2 mo of age and were classified into quartiles (Q1 = lowest, Q4 = highest) according to the GDPR and GHCR values of the study population. At 10 to 11 mo of age, heifers were fitted with a collar that recorded activity and rumination and determined the occurrence of estrus according to changes in activity and rumination compared with the individual's baseline values. Estrous characteristics of spontaneous estruses (SPE) and PGF-synchronized estruses (PGSE) were recorded. Heifers had their estrous cycle synchronized with PGF and following detection of estrus received either artificial insemination or embryo transfer according to the herd's genetic selection program. Heifers in Q2 (17.7 ± 0.3 h) of GHCR tended to have longer SPE than heifers in Q4 (16.7 ± 0.3 h). The interaction between GDPR and GHCR was associated with the likelihood of activity peak (0 = no estrus, 100 = maximum activity) ≥80 at SPE because, among heifers in Q3 and Q4 of GHCR, those in Q1 of GDPR were less likely to have an activity peak ≥80. Heifers in Q1 and Q2 of GDPR had reduced hazard of estrus within 7 d of the first PGF treatment compared with heifers in Q4 of GDPR. Heifers in Q1 (16.1 ± 0.4 h) of GDPR had shorter PGSE than heifers in Q2 (17.6 ± 0.4 h) and Q4 (17.4 ± 0.4 h) and tended to have shorter PGSE than heifers in Q3 (17.4 ± 0.4 h). Rumination nadir on the day of PGSE was greater for heifers in Q1 (-30.1 ± 0.9 min/d) of GDPR compared with heifers in Q4 (-33.7 ± 0.9 min/d). Among heifers receiving only artificial insemination, those in Q1 of GHCR (adjusted hazard ratio = 0.65; 95% confidence interval = 0.48-0.88) became pregnant at a slower rate than heifers in Q4. Genomic merit for HCR was negatively associated with SPE but tended to be positively associated with hazard of pregnancy, whereas GDPR was positively associated with PGSE and hazard of estrus. Selection of dairy cattle for DPR and HCR may improve reproductive performance through different pathways, namely estrous characteristics and pregnancy establishment.


automated estrous detection; estrous behavior; genetic selection

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