Birth conditions affect the longevity of Holstein offspring

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Source: Journal of Dairy Science

Gabriel M. Dallago, Roger I. Cue, Kevin M. Wade, René Lacroix, Elsa Vasseur

ABSTRACT

Studies of dairy cow longevity usually focus on the animal life after first calving, with few studies considering early life conditions and their effects on longevity. The objective was to evaluate the effect of birth conditions routinely collected by Dairy Herd Improvement agencies on offspring longevity measured as length of life and length of productive life. Lactanet provided 712,890 records on offspring born in 5,425 Quebec dairy herds between January 1999 and November 2015 for length of life, and 506,066 records on offspring born in 5,089 Quebec dairy herds between January 1999 and December 2013 for length of productive life. Offspring birth conditions used in this study were calving ease (unassisted, pull, surgery, or malpresentation), calf size (small, medium, or large), and twinning (yes or no). Observations were considered censored if the culling reason was “exported,” “sold for dairy production,” or “rented out” as well as if the animals were not yet culled at the time of data extraction. If offspring were not yet culled when the data were extracted, the last test-day date was considered the censoring date. Conditional inference survival trees were used in this study to analyze the effect of offspring birth conditions on offspring longevity. The hazard ratio of culling between the groups of offspring identified by the survival trees was estimated using a Cox proportional hazard model with herd-year-season as a frailty term. Five offspring groups were identified with different length of life based on their birth condition. Offspring with the highest length of life [median = 3.61 year; median absolute deviation (MAD) = 1.86] were those classified as large or medium birth size and were also the result of an unassisted calving. Small offspring as a result of a twin birth had the lowest length of life (median = 2.20 year; MAD = 1.69) and were 1.52 times more likely to be culled early in life. Six groups were identified with different length of productive life. Offspring that resulted from an unassisted or surgery calving and classified as large or medium when they were born were in the group with the highest length of productive life (median = 2.03 year; MAD = 1.63). Offspring resulting from a malpresentation or pull in a twin birth were in the group with the lowest length of productive life (median = 1.15 year; MAD = 1.11) and were 1.70 times more likely to be culled early in life. In conclusion, birth conditions of calving ease, calf size, and twinning greatly affected offspring longevity, and such information could be used for early selection of replacement candidates.
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