Skip to main content Accessibility help

Genotype by environment interaction for livability of dairy calves from first parity cows

  • W. Ouweltjes (a1), J. J. Windig (a1), M. L. van Pelt (a2) and M. P. L. Calus (a1)


Death of calves around parturition is a matter of concern for dairy farmers. Relatively high stillbirth rates and unfavourable trends have been reported for Holstein heifers in the Netherlands and several other countries. In our study, we investigated herd differences, genetic parameters and genotype by environment interaction for heifer calf livability. A large dataset with data from calvings between 1993 and 2012 of Dutch dairy farms was used. There were considerable differences between herds in livability of calves from heifers, with averages ranging from 74% to 95%. Both herds with relatively high and low averages showed the same negative trend between 1993 and 2012, with largest declines in herds with the lowest averages. We found that heritability and genetic variation of first parity livability were substantially larger in herd environments where the likelihood of stillbirth was high v. environments where stillbirth was at a low level. The genetic correlations between herd environment levels were all very close to unity, indicating that ranking of sires was similar for all environments. However, for herds with a relatively high stillbirth incidence selecting sires with favourable breeding values is expected to be twice as profitable as in herds with a relatively low stillbirth incidence.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Barrier, AC, Mason, C, Dwyer, CM, Haskell, MJ and Macrae, AI 2013. Stillbirth in dairy calves is influenced independently by dystocia and body shape. The Veterinary Journal 197, 220223.
Calus, M, Bijma, P and Veerkamp, R 2004. Effects of data structure on the estimation of covariance functions to describe genotype by environment interactions in a reaction norm model. Genetics Selection Evolution 36, 489507.
Calus, MPL, Windig, JJ and Veerkamp, RF 2005. Associations among descriptors of herd management and phenotypic and genetic levels of health and fertility. Journal of Dairy Science 88, 21782189.
Cole, JB, Wiggans, GR, VanRaden, PM and Miller, RH 2007. Stillbirth (Co)variance components for a sire-maternal grandsire threshold model and development of a calving ability index for sire selection. Journal of Dairy Science 90, 24892496.
Dempster, ER and Lerner, IM 1950. Heritability of threshold characters. Genetics 35, 212236.
Dufty, J 1981. The influence of various degrees of confinement and supervision on the incidence of dystokia and stillbirths in Hereford heifers. New Zealand Veterinary Journal 29, 4448.
Eaglen, SAE, Coffey, MP, Woolliams, JA and Wall, E 2013. Direct and maternal genetic relationships between calving ease, gestation length, milk production, fertility, type, and lifespan of Holstein–Friesian primiparous cows. Journal of Dairy Science 96, 40154025.
Emanuelson, U, Oltenacu, PA and Gröhn, YT 1993. Nonlinear mixed model analyses of five production disorders of dairy cattle. Journal of Dairy Science 76, 27652772.
Eriksson, S, Näsholm, A, Johansson, K and Philipsson, J 2004. Genetic parameters for calving difficulty, stillbirth, and birth weight for Hereford and Charolais at first and later parities. Journal of Animal Science 82, 375383.
Falconer, DS 1952. The problem of environment and selection. American Naturalist 293298.
Gilmour, AR, Gogel, B, Cullis, B and Thompson, R 2009. ASReml user guide release 3.0. VSN International Ltd, Hemel Hempstead, UK.
Gundelach, Y, Essmeyer, K, Teltscher, M and Hoedemaker, M 2009. Risk factors for perinatal mortality in dairy cattle: cow and foetal factors, calving process. Theriogenology 71, 901909.
Hansen, M, Lund, MS, Pedersen, J and Christensen, LG 2004. Genetic parameters for stillbirth in Danish Holstein cows using a Bayesian threshold model. Journal of Dairy Science 87, 706716.
Harbers, A, Segeren, L and de Jong, G 2000. Genetic parameters for stillbirth in the Netherlands. Interbull Bulletin 25, 117122.
Heins, B, Hansen, L and Seykora, A 2006. Calving difficulty and stillbirths of pure Holsteins versus crossbreds of Holstein with Normande, Montbeliarde, and Scandinavian Red. Journal of Dairy Science 89, 28052810.
Heringstad, B, Chang, YM, Svendsen, M and Gianola, D 2007. Genetic analysis of calving difficulty and stillbirth in Norwegian Red cows. Journal of Dairy Science 90, 35003507.
Kearney, JF, Schutz, MM and Boettcher, PJ 2004. Genotype × environment interaction for grazing vs. confinement. II. Health and reproduction traits. Journal of Dairy Science 87, 510516.
Kielland, C, Skjerve, E, Østerås, O and Zanella, A 2010. Dairy farmer attitudes and empathy toward animals are associated with animal welfare indicators. Journal of Dairy Science 93, 29983006.
Mee, J 2013. Explaining unexplained bovine stillbirth: how to deal with ‘farm blindness’. The Veterinary Journal 197, 120121.
Mee, JF 2004. Managing the dairy cow at calving time. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Food Animal Practice 20, 521546.
Mee, JF, Berry, DP and Cromie, AR 2008. Prevalence of, and risk factors associated with, perinatal calf mortality in pasture-based Holstein–Friesian cows. Animal 2, 613620.
Mee, JF, Sánchez-Miguel, C and Doherty, M 2014. Influence of modifiable risk factors on the incidence of stillbirth/perinatal mortality in dairy cattle. The Veterinary Journal 199, 1923.
Meijering, A 1984. Dystocia and stillbirth in cattle: a review of causes, relations and implications. Livestock Production Science 11, 143177.
Mellor, DJ and Stafford, KJ 2004. Animal welfare implications of neonatal mortality and morbidity in farm animals. The Veterinary Journal 168, 118133.
Meyer, C, Berger, P and Koehler, K 2000. Interactions among factors affecting stillbirths in Holstein cattle in the United States. Journal of Dairy Science 83, 26572663.
Meyer, C, Berger, P, Thompson, J and Sattler, C 2001. Genetic evaluation of Holstein sires and maternal grandsires in the United States for perinatal survival. Journal of Dairy Science 84, 12461254.
Mulder, HA and Bijma, P 2006. Benefits of cooperation between breeding programs in the presence of genotype by environment interaction. Journal of Dairy Science 89, 17271739.
Murray, CF and Leslie, KE 2013. Newborn calf vitality: risk factors, characteristics, assessment, resulting outcomes and strategies for improvement. The Veterinary Journal 198, 322328.
Philipsson, J, Foulley, J, Lederer, J, Liboriussen, T and Osinga, A 1979. Sire evaluation standards and breeding strategies for limiting dystocia and stillbirth. Report of an EEC/EAAP working group. Livestock Production Science 6, 111127.
Pryce, JE, Nielsen, BL, Veerkamp, RF and Simm, G 1999. Genotype and feeding system effects and interactions for health and fertility traits in dairy cattle. Livestock Production Science 57, 193201.
Santman, I, Van Wuijckhuise, L, Muskens, J, Smolenaars, A and Van Schaik, G 2013. Tussenrapportage onderzoek naar stijgende sterfte van niet-geoormerkte en geoormerkte kalveren op melkveebedrijven. Report, Gezondheidsdienst voor Dieren, Deventer, the Netherlands (in Dutch).
Steinbock, L, Näsholm, A, Berglund, B, Johansson, K and Philipsson, J 2003. Genetic effects on stillbirth and calving difficulty in Swedish Holsteins at first and second calving. Journal of Dairy Science 86, 22282235.
van Bebber, J, Reinsch, N, Junge, W and Kalm, E 1997. Accounting for herd, year and season effects in genetic evaluations of dairy cattle: a review. Livestock Production Science 51, 191203.
Van der Werf, J and De Boer, W 1989. Influence of nonadditive effects on estimation of genetic parameters in dairy cattle. Journal of Dairy Science 72, 26062614.
van Pelt, M and de Jong, G 2011. Genetic evaluation for direct and maternal livability in The Netherlands. Interbull Bulletin 44, 235239.
Wiggans, G, Misztal, I and Van Tassell, C 2003. Calving ease (co) variance components for a sire-maternal grandsire threshold model. Journal of Dairy Science 86, 18451848.
Windig, JJ, Calus, MPL and Veerkamp, RF 2005. Influence of herd environment on health and fertility and their relationship with milk production. Journal of Dairy Science 88, 335347.
Yao, C, Weigel, KA and Cole, JB 2014. Short communication: genetic evaluation of stillbirth in US Brown Swiss and Jersey cattle. Journal of Dairy Science 97, 24742480.


Genotype by environment interaction for livability of dairy calves from first parity cows

  • W. Ouweltjes (a1), J. J. Windig (a1), M. L. van Pelt (a2) and M. P. L. Calus (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed