Genetic analysis of milk urea nitrogen and relationships with yield and fertility across lactation

S Mucha, E Strandberg
Journal of Dairy Science 2011, 94 (11): 5665-72
The aim of this project was to investigate the relationship of milk urea nitrogen (MUN) with 3 milk production traits [milk yield (MY), fat yield (FY), protein yield (PY)] and 6 fertility measures (number of inseminations, calving interval, interval from calving to first insemination, interval from calving to last insemination, interval from first to last insemination, and pregnancy at first insemination). Data consisted of 635,289 test-day records of MY, FY, PY, and MUN on 76,959 first-lactation Swedish Holstein cows calving from 2001 to 2003, and corresponding lactation records for the fertility traits. Yields and MUN were analyzed with a random regression model followed by a multi-trait model in which the lactation was broken into 10 monthly periods. Heritability for MUN was stable across lactation (between 0.16 and 0.18), whereas MY, FY, and PY had low heritability at the beginning of lactation, which increased with time and stabilized after 100 d in milk, at 0.47, 0.36, and 0.44, respectively. Fertility traits had low heritabilities (0.02 to 0.05). Phenotypic correlations of MUN and milk production traits were between 0.13 (beginning of lactation) and 0.00 (end of lactation). Genetic correlations of MUN and MY, FY, and PY followed similar trends and were positive (0.22) at the beginning and negative (-0.15) at the end of lactation. Phenotypic correlations of MUN and fertility were close to zero. A surprising result was that genetic correlations of MUN and fertility traits suggest a positive relationship between the 2 traits for most of the lactation, indicating that animals with breeding values for increased MUN also had breeding values for improved fertility. This result was obtained with a random regression model as well as with a multi-trait model. The analyzed group of cows had a moderate level of MUN concentration. In such a population MUN concentration may increase slightly due to selection for improved fertility. Conversely, selection for increased MUN concentration may improve fertility slightly.

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