The use of variation in metabolism to predict genetic merit for milk production was studied using 42 Friesian calves: 11 ♀♀, 10 ♂♂ were the offspring of four bulls with high (H), and 11 ♀♀, 10 ♂♂ of four with low (L) improved contemporary comparison (ICC) values (mean = + 402 kg and − 276 kg respectively). The animals were 14 or 15 weeks of age at the start of the study and treated similarly throughout.
Blood samples were collected: I—in relation to feeding; II—at set intervals; III—during a 44-h fast; and IV—following the sudden introduction of an energy metabolite (sodium propionate), and then refeeding. Plasma concentrations of β-hydroxybutyrate, glucose, urea, free fatty acids, total proteins and albumin were measured in all samples.
Blood characteristics apparently differed among animals, particularly protein and urea (repeatability 0·74 and 0·62 respectively).
The progeny of high ICC bulls had lower levels of urea during fasting (H = 4·70, L = 5·62 P < 0·05) but higher levels of free fatty acids (H = 578, L = 492 μ equivalents/l; P < 0·05). There was a small difference in total protein (H = 69·7, L = 66·8 g/l, P < 0·05) but the other metabolites showed no significant ICC group difference.
In general, sex of the animal did not influence the metabolites.
Results suggest that calves with different potentials for milk production vary in aspects of energy and nitrogen metabolism; the possibility of using these as criteria for genetic selection for milk production is discussed.