Reproductive tract size and position score: Estimation of genetic parameters for a novel fertility trait in dairy cows

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Source: Journal of Dairy Science

ABSTRACT

The dairy industry is moving toward selecting animals with better fertility to decrease the economic losses linked to reproductive issues. The reproductive tract size and position score (SPS) was recently developed in physiological studies as an indicator of pregnancy rate and the number of services to conception. Cows are scored as SPS 1, 2, or 3 based on the size of their reproductive tract and its position in the pelvis, as determined by transrectal palpation. The objective of this study was to estimate genetic parameters for SPS to assess its potential as a novel fertility trait. Phenotypes were collected at the University of British Columbia’s research herd from 2017 to 2020, consisting of 3,247 within- and across-lactation SPS records from 490 Holstein cows. A univariate animal model was used to estimate the variance components for SPS. Both threshold and linear models were fit under a Bayesian approach and the results were compared using the Spearman rank correlation (r) between the estimated breeding values. The 2 models ranked the animals very similarly (r = 0.99), and the linear model was selected for further analysis. Genetic correlations with other currently evaluated traits were estimated using a bivariate animal model. The posterior means (± posterior standard deviation) for heritability and repeatability within- and across-lactation were 0.113 (± 0.013), 0.242 (± 0.012), and 0.134 (± 0.014), respectively. The SPS showed null correlations with production traits and favorable correlations with traditional fertility traits, varying from −0.730 (nonreturn rate) to 0.931 (number of services). Although preliminary, these results are encouraging because SPS seems to be more heritable than and strongly genetically correlated with number of services, nonreturn rate, and first service to conception, indicating potential for effective indirect selection response on these traits from SPS genetic selection. Therefore, further studies with larger data sets to validate these findings are warranted.
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