Phenotypic effects of calving ease on the subsequent fertility and milk production of dam and calf in UK Holstein-Friesian heifers

Sophie Eaglen, M.P. Coffey, J.A. Woolliams, R. Mrode, E. Wall

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The effect of calving ease on the fertility and production performance of both dam and calf was studied in approximately 50,000 and 10,000 UK Holstein-Friesian heifers and heifer calves, respectively. The first objective of this study was to estimate the effect of a difficult calving on the subsequent first-lactation milk production by estimating lactation curves using cubic splines. This methodology allows the estimation of daily milk, protein, and fat yields following calvings of differing degrees of difficulty. Losses in milk yield after a difficult calving have been quantified previously; however, estimates are generally restricted to the accumulated yields at specific days in lactation. By fitting cubic splines, gaps (in which the shape of the lactation curve can be merely guessed) between estimations were avoided. The second objective of this study was to estimate the effect of a difficult birth on the subsequent performance of the calf as an adult animal. Even though the calving process is known to involve cooperation between dam and calf, the effect of a difficult calving has, until now, only been estimated for the subsequent performance of the dam. Addressing the effects of a difficult birth on the adult calf strengthens the importance of calving ease as a selection trait because it suggests that the benefit of genetic improvement may currently be underestimated. The effect of calving ease on the subsequent reproductive performance of dam and calf was analyzed using linear regression and with calving ease score fitted as a fixed effect. Dams with veterinary-assisted calvings required 0.7 more services to conception and 8 more days to first service and experienced a 28-d longer calving interval in first lactation compared with dams that were not assisted at calving. Effects of calving ease on the reproductive performance of the adult calf in first lactation were not detected. Losses in milk yield of the dam were significant between d 9 to 90 in milk subsequent to a veterinary-assisted calving, creating a loss of approximately 2kg of milk per day, compared with a nonassisted calving. Calves being born with difficulties showed a significant reduction in milk yield in first lactation, demonstrating the lifelong effect of a difficult birth. Compared with nonassisted calves, veterinary-assisted calves showed a loss of 710kg in accumulated 305-d milk yield, which was significant from 129 to 261 d in milk. This suggests that from birth to production, physiological effects of a bad calving are not negated. Results furthermore suggest a beneficial effect of farmer assistance at calving on the milk yield of both dam and calf, when moderate difficulties occurred.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)5413-5423
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • calving ease
  • Fertility
  • Milk production
  • development

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