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Influence of age, body weight and body condition score before mating start date on the pubertal rate of maiden Holstein–Friesian heifers and implications for subsequent cow performance and profitability

  • H. Archbold (a1) (a2), L. Shalloo (a1), E. Kennedy (a1), K. M. Pierce (a2) and F. Buckley (a1)...

Abstract

The aim of this study was to assess the influence of age, body weight (BW) and body condition score (BCS) of maiden Holstein–Friesian heifers before mating start date (MSD) on the rate of puberty, subsequent production and longevity and their implications with regard to farm profitability. Data were available on 871 Holstein–Friesian heifers from 48 herds. BW was recorded electronically and BCS was recorded by a single operator on a scale of 1 to 5. Heifer age was calculated as the number of days from birth to the day of visit. All of the independent variables of interest were grouped into three or four categories. Three age categories (thirtiles), four BW categories (quartiles) and four BCS categories (⩽2.75, 3.00, 3.25 and ⩾3.50) were formed. Heifers with an identifiable corpus lutuem (CL) in the presence or absence of large follicles and peri-ovulatory signs and with a plasma progesterone (P4) concentration ⩾1 ng/ml were classified as pubertal. In addition, heifers without an identifiable CL in the presence or absence of large follicles and peri-ovulatory signs but with a P4 concentration ⩾1 ng/ml were also classified as pubertal. Age, BW and BCS at MSD were all found to be significantly associated with pubertal rate (P < 0.05). Age was shown to have no practical implications on subsequent cow performance. BW at MSD was favourably associated with subsequent calving date (P < 0.05), subsequent cow BW (P < 0.001) and potential (305 days) milk fat plus protein yield (P < 0.001). BCS at MSD was found to be favourably associated with milk fat plus protein yield potential (P < 0.05) and BCS (P < 0.001) during lactation. The economic analysis undertaken indicated that larger, well-grown heifers will be more profitable because of superior production potential, all else being equal. However, because of the finding of poorer reproductive efficiency in heifers grown to more than 343 kg at MSD, heifers at ∼330 kg at MSD are deemed optimal. This will correspond to mature cow BW of ∼550 kg.

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