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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2019

Genetic parameters of endocrine fertility traits based on in-line milk progesterone profiles in Swedish Red and Holstein dairy cows

Tarekegn, G. M.; Gullstrand, P.; Strandberg, E.; Bage, R.; Rius-Vilarrasa, E.; Christensen, J. M.; Berglund, B.


Evaluating fertility traits based on endocrine progesterone profiles is becoming a promising option to improve dairy cow fertility. Several studies have been conducted on endocrine fertility traits, mainly in the Holstein breed. In this study, focusing also on the Swedish Red (SR) breed, genetic parameters were estimated for classical and endocrine fertility traits, the latter based on in-line milk progesterone records obtained for 14 Swedish herds using DeLaval Herd Navigator (DeLaval International, Tumba, Sweden). A total of 210,403 observations from 3,437 lactations of 1,107 SR and 1,538 Holstein cows were used. Mixed linear animal models were used for estimation of genetic parameters. Least squares means analysis showed that Holstein cows had a 2.5-d-shorter interval from calving to commencement of luteal activity (C-LA) and longer length of first inter-ovulatory interval (IOI) than SR cows. The highest mean interval for C-LA, IOI, and first luteal phase length (LPL) was observed in the fourth parity. The incidence of short (<18 d), normal, (18-24 d), and long (>24 d) IOI was 29.3, 40.7, and 30%, respectively. Genetic analysis indicated moderate heritability (h(2)) for C-LA (h(2) = 0.24), luteal activity during the first 60 d in milk (LA60, h(2) = 0.15), proportion of samples with luteal activity (PLA, h(2) = 0.13), and calving to first heat (CFH, h(2) = 0.18), and low heritability estimates for LPL (h(2) = 0.08) and IOI (h(2) = 0.03) in the combined data set for both breeds. Similar heritability estimates were obtained for each breed separately except for IOI and LPL in SR cows, for which heritability was estimated to be zero. Swedish Red cows had 0.01 to 0.06 higher heritability estimates for C-LA, LA60, and PLA than did Holstein cows. Calving interval had moderate heritability among the classical traits for Holstein and the combined data set, but h(2) was zero for SR. Commencement of luteal activity had a strong genetic correlation with LA60 (mean +/- SE; -0.88 +/- 0.06), PLA (-0.72 +/- 0.11), and CFH (0.90 +/- 0.04). Similarly, CFH had a strong genetic correlation with IOI (0.98 +/- 0.20). Number of inseminations per series showed a weak genetic correlation with all endocrine traits except IOI. Overall, endocrine traits had higher heritability estimates than classical traits in both breeds, and may have a better potential to explain the actual reproductive status of dairy cows than classical traits. This might favor inclusion of some endocrine fertility traits-especially those related to commencement of luteal activity as selection criteria and breeding goal traits if recording becomes more common in herds. Further studies on genetic and genomic evaluations for endocrine fertility traits may help to provide firm conclusions. A prerequisite is that the data from automatic devices be made available to recording and breeding organizations in the future and included in a central database.


correlation; heritability; luteal activity; progesterone

Published in

Journal of Dairy Science
2019, Volume: 102, number: 12, pages: 11207-11216