Genetic selection has greatly improved individual cow productivity. A high genetic merit Holstein Friesian cow will produce 10,000 of litres of milk in a 305 day lactation, those of lower genetic merit half this amount. Despite major research effort in generating these differences, quantitative biological description of what has been achieved is lacking. The aim of this study was to compare biological variables of relevance to milk synthesis in well defined high genetic merit and lower genetic merit dairy cows.
12 cows of high genetic merit (HGM: top 5% of UK national herd) and 12 of lower genetic merit (LGM: close to UK average) were purchased from the Blythbank and Langhill herds; the ontogeny of these selection lines has been described elsewhere (Woolliams et al, 1993). Mean parity was 3.7±0.3 and was balanced between HGM and LGM. Management of the two groups was identical. Measurements were made over a period of two weeks close to peak lactation. Milk yield was recorded at each milking. Plasma samples were collected and analysed for a variety of hormones by radioimmunoassay and metabolites by established spectrophotometric assays. Udder size was determined by a casting technique (Dewhurst et al., 1993) and mammary biopsies for key enzyme activities were obtained as described by Knight et. al. (1992). Differences between lines were analysed by analysis of variance (ANOVA).