JOURNAL ARTICLE

Season of conception is associated with future survival, fertility, and milk yield of Holstein cows

P J Pinedo, A De Vries
Journal of Dairy Science 2017, 100 (8): 6631-6639
28601450
Environmental influences during different stages of pregnancy can induce lifelong changes in the structure, physiology, and metabolism of the offspring. Our hypothesis was that season of conception (when the offspring was conceived), associated with heat stress conditions at conception and during the initial stages of embryonic development, affects the lifetime performance and survival of the female offspring after birth. The objective was to analyze the association between month of conception and subsequent survival, fertility, and milk yield in cows maintained on dairy farms in Florida, where the climate during the summer is hot and humid but winters are mild. Initial data consisted of 667,104 Dairy Herd Improvement lactation records from cows calving between 2000 and 2012 in 152 herds. Dates of conception were estimated as birth date minus 280 d. The magnitude of heat stress in each herd was quantified by comparing milk yield during summer and winter. Wood's lactation curves were fitted to adjust milk yields for effects of days in milk, and residuals were obtained for each calendar month. A sine function was fitted on the 12 residuals per farm. The difference between the highest and lowest points on the sine function was termed the seasonality index, a measure of the direct effect of heat stress on milk production. Herds were categorized in 3 levels of seasonality [low (seasonality index values less than the 25th percentile value; <2.84), medium (values within the interquartile range), and high (values greater than the 75th percentile value; >5.22)]. Cows were grouped by their month of conception: summer (July-September) and winter (December-February), and comparisons were performed by parity using logistic regression, ANOVA, and survival analysis. Two models were developed. Model A included the complete population of cows (n = 337,529 lactation records) conceived in winter or summer. Model B included cows (n = 228,257 lactation records) that had parent-average genetic information available to be able to correct for farmer's use of lower genetic merit of sires in summer. Other variables included in the models were month and year of calving, age at first calving, and herd. Models were run per parity group (1, 2, and ≥3). In both models, age at first calving was lower for cows conceived during winter versus summer. The odds (95% confidence interval) of survival to a second calving for cows conceived in winter were 1.21 and 1.15 times the odds of survival for cows conceived in summer for models A and B, respectively. Numbers of days from calving to first breeding and from calving to conception were consistently smaller for winter versus summer months of conception across all parity categories. Milk yields (305 d and by 70 d in milk) were greater for cows conceived in winter versus summer. In conclusion, cows that were conceived in the winter had better subsequent survival and performance than cows that were conceived in the summer. There is evidence that season of conception may have lifelong consequences for the offspring.

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