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Relationships between energy balance and health traits of dairy cattle in early lactation

  • B. L. Collard (a1), P. J. Boettcher (a1), J. C. M. Dekkers (a2), L. R. Schaeffer (a1) and D. Petitclerc (a3)...

Abstract

Data were records of daily food intake and milk production, periodic measures of milk composition and all health and reproductive information from 140 multiparous Holstein cows involved in various experiments at the Agriculture Canada dairy research station in Lennoxville, Quebec. Energy concentrations of the total mixed rations were also available. Daily energy balance was calculated by multiplying the food intake by the concentration of energy in the diet and then subtracting from this quantity the expected (National Research Council) amount of energy required for maintenance (based on parity and body weight) and for milk production (based on yield and concentrations of fat, protein and lactose). Four energy balance traits were defined: (1) average daily energy balance within the first 10 to 100 days of lactation, (2) minimum daily energy balance, (3) days in negative energy balance and (4) total energy deficit during the period of negative energy balance. Health traits were the numbers of incidences of each of the following: (1) all udder problems, (2) mastitis, (3) all locomotive problems, (4) laminitis, (5) digestive problems and (6) reproductive problems. Reproductive traits were the number of days to first observed oestrous and number of inseminations. Phenotypic relationships between energy balance and health were investigated by regressing the energy balance traits on each health trait. Parity and treatment (according to the research trial that the cow was involved with) were also included in the model. Genetic parameters were estimated with restricted maximum likelihood and a model that included effects of parity, treatment and animal. Phenotypically, several significant (P<0.10) relationships between energy balance and health were observed. Cows with longer periods of negative energy balance had increased digestive problems. Cows with greater total energy deficit had more digestive problems and laminitis. Estimates of heritabilities for energy intake and milk energy were 0.42 and 0.12, respectively but estimates of heritability for all energy balance traits were zero. The low estimates for these traits may have been due to (1) low true additive genetic variance, (2) small amount of data, or (3) relatively few genetic ties among cows.

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