Genetic analyses of fertility and predictor traits in Holstein herds with low and high mean calving intervals and in Jersey herds Academic Article uri icon


  • Genetic parameters were estimated with the aim of identifying useful predictor traits for the genetic evaluation of fertility. For this study, data included calving interval (CI), days from calving to first service (CFS), pregnancy diagnosis, lactation length (LL), daily milk yield close to 90 d of lactation (milk yield), and survival to second lactation on Australian Holstein and Jersey cows. The effect of level of fertility, measured here as CI, on correlations among traits was investigated by dividing the Holstein herds into those that managed short CI (proxy for seasonal-calving herds) and long CI (proxy for herds that practice extended lactations). In all cases, genetic correlations of CI with CFS, pregnancy, and LL were high (>0.7). Genetic correlations between fertility and predictor traits were generally similar in the 2 Holstein herd groups and in Jerseys. However, some differences in both the direction and strength of correlations were observed. In Jerseys, the genetic correlation between CI and survival was positive, but in Holstein herds, this correlation was negative. Particularly in low mean CI herds, the correlation suggests that cows with a genetic potential for longer CI were more likely to be culled. The genetic correlation of CI with survival was intermediate in high mean CI Holstein herds. Furthermore, Jersey cows with a high genetic potential for milk yield had a higher chance of surviving than those with low genetic potential. In contrast, the genetic correlation between milk yield and survival in low mean CI Holstein herds was near zero. The high genetic correlation between CI and LL suggests that LL could be used as proxy for CI in cows that do not calve again. Although the phenotypic variance for CI in high mean CI herds was nearly twice that in Jerseys and low mean CI herds, we found no bull reranking for CI due to having daughters in low or high mean CI herds. However, the ranges in estimated breeding values (EBV) were narrower in low mean CI herds than in high mean CI herds. The genetic trend in cows and bulls showed that CI EBV were increasing by 0.3 to 0.8 d/yr in both Holstein and Jersey. Phenotypically, CI was increasing by 2 d/yr in high mean CI Holstein herds and by 1 d/yr in Jersey and low mean CI Holstein herds. However, in recent years, both phenotypic and genetic trends have stabilized. In summary, if the main trait for genetic evaluation of fertility is CI, predictor traits such as milk yield, survival, LL, and other fertility traits can be used in joint analyses to increase reliability of bull EBV. If the genetic evaluation is to be carried out simultaneously for Holstein and Jersey using the same variance-covariance matrix, survival should not be used as a predictor because its correlation with CI is different in Jersey than in Holstein. On the other hand, LL could be used instead of CI for cows that do not calve again in both breeds and herd groups.

publication date

  • January 2013