Genetic and phenotypic relationships among milk urea nitrogen, fertility, and milk yield in holstein cows

S König, Y M Chang, U U von Borstel, D Gianola, H Simianer
Journal of Dairy Science 2008, 91 (11): 4372-82
The aims of the study were to evaluate the relationships among milk urea nitrogen and nonreturn rates at the phenotypic scale, and to estimate genetic parameters among milk urea nitrogen, milk yield, and fertility traits in the early period of lactation. Milk yield, protein percentage, the interval from calving to first service, and 56- and 90-d nonreturn rates were available from 73,344 Holstein cows from 2,178 different herds located in a region in northwestern Germany. Generalized linear models with a logit link function were applied to assess the phenotypic relationships. Bivariate threshold-threshold, linear-threshold, and linear-linear models, fitted in a Bayesian framework, were used to estimate genetic correlations among traits. Milk yield, protein percentage, and milk urea nitrogen were means from test-day 1 (on average 20.8 d in milk) and test-day 2 (on average 53.1 d in milk) after calving. An increase in milk urea nitrogen was associated with decreasing 56-d nonreturn rates on the phenotypic scale. At fixed levels of milk urea nitrogen, greater values of protein percentage, indicating a surplus of energy in the feed, were positively associated with nonreturn rates. Heritabilities were 0.03 for 56- and 90-d nonreturn rates, 0.07 for interval from calving to first service, 0.13 for milk urea nitrogen, and 0.19 for milk yield. Service sire explained a negligible part (below 0.15%) of the total variance for nonreturn rates. Genetic correlations between the interval from calving to first service and nonreturn rates were close to zero. The genetic correlation between nonreturn rates was 0.94, suggesting that a change from nonreturn after 90 d to nonreturn after 56 d in the national genetic evaluation would not result in any loss of information. The genetic correlation between milk yield and nonreturn after 56 d was -0.31, and between milk yield and calving to first service was 0.14, both indicating an antagonistic relationship between production and reproduction. The genetic correlation between milk yield and milk urea nitrogen was 0.44, reflecting an energy deficiency in early lactation. The genetic correlations between milk urea nitrogen and nonreturn rates were too weak (-0.19 for 56-d nonreturn rate, and -0.23 for 90-d nonreturn rate) to justify the use of milk urea nitrogen as an additional trait in genetic selection for fertility, as demonstrated by selection index calculations.

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