Heterogeneity of genetic parameters for calving difficulty in Holstein heifers in Ireland

J.M. Hickey, M.G. Keane, D.A. Kenny, R.F. Veerkamp, A.R. Cromie, P.R. Amer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Calving difficulty is a trait that greatly affects animal welfare, herd profitability, and the amount of labor required by cattle farmers. It is influenced by direct and maternal genetic components. Selection and breeding strategies can optimize the accuracy of genetic evaluations and correctly emphasize calving difficulty in multiple-trait indices provided there are accurate estimates of genetic parameters. In Ireland, large differences exist in the age at which heifers first give birth to calves. The objective of this study was to estimate genetic parameters for calving difficulty in first-parity Holsteins and to determine whether these differed with age of the heifer at calving. Transformed calving difficulty records for 18,798 Holstein heifers, which calved between January 2002 and May 2006, were analyzed using univariate, multitrait, and random regression linear sire-maternal grandsire models. The model that 1) fitted a second-order random regression of dam age at first parity for the direct component, 2) treated the maternal component as a single trait regardless of dam age, and 3) fitted a single residual variance component was optimal. Heritabilities for direct (0.13) and maternal (0.04) calving difficulty were significantly different from zero. These 2 components were moderately negatively correlated (-0.47). Estimates of direct genetic variance and heritability were heterogeneous along the dam age trajectory, decreasing initially with dam age before subsequently increasing. Heritability estimates ranged between 0.11 and 0.37 and were higher for records with younger and older dams at parturition. Genetic correlations between the direct components of calving difficulty decreased from unity to 0.5 with increasing distance between dam ages at parturition. The results of this study indicated that heterogeneity of direct genetic variance existed for calving difficulty, depending on dam age at first parturition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3900-3908
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2007

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • calving difficulty
  • Genetic parameter
  • Heterogeneous variance component


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