Classifying the fertility of dairy cows using milk mid-infrared spectroscopy Academic Article uri icon


  • The objective of this study was to investigate the potential of milk mid-infrared (MIR) spectroscopy, MIR-derived traits including milk composition, milk fatty acids, and blood metabolic profiles (fatty acids, β-hydroxybutyrate, and urea), and other on-farm data for discriminating cows of good versus poor likelihood of conception to first insemination (i.e., pregnant vs. open). A total of 6,488 spectral and milk production records of 2,987 cows from 19 commercial dairy herds across 3 Australian states were used. Seven models, comprising different explanatory variables, were examined. Model 1 included milk production; concentrations of fat, protein, and lactose; somatic cell count; age at calving; days in milk at herd test; and days from calving to insemination. Model 2 included, in addition to the variables in model 1, milk fatty acids and blood metabolic profiles. The MIR spectrum collected before first insemination was added to model 2 to form model 3. Fat, protein, and lactose percentages, milk fatty acids, and blood metabolic profiles were removed from model 3 to create model 4. Model 5 and model 6 comprised model 4 and either fertility genomic estimated breeding value or principal components obtained from a genomic relationship matrix derived using animal genotypes, respectively. In model 7, all previously described sources of information, but not MIR-derived traits, were used. The models were developed using partial least squares discriminant analysis. The performance of each model was evaluated in 2 ways: 10-fold random cross-validation and herd-by-herd external validation. The accuracy measures were sensitivity (i.e., the proportion of pregnant cows that were correctly classified), specificity (i.e., the proportion of open cows that were correctly classified), and area under the curve (AUC) for the receiver operating curve. The results showed that in all models, prediction accuracy obtained through 10-fold random cross-validation was higher than that of herd-by-herd external validation, with the difference in AUC ranging between 0.01 and 0.09. In the herd-by-herd external validation, using basic on-farm information (model 1) was not sufficient to classify good- and poor-fertility cows; the sensitivity, specificity, and AUC were around 0.66. Compared with model 1, adding milk fatty acids and blood metabolic profiles (model 2) increased the sensitivity, specificity, and AUC by 0.01, 0.02, and 0.02 unit, respectively (i.e., 0.65, 0.63, and 0.678). Incorporating MIR spectra into model 2 resulted in sensitivity, specificity, and AUC values of 0.73, 0.63, and 0.72, respectively (model 3). The comparable prediction accuracies observed for models 3 and 4 mean that useful information from MIR-derived traits is already included in the spectra. Adding the fertility genomic estimated breeding value and animal genotypes (model 7) produced the highest prediction accuracy, with sensitivity, specificity, and AUC values of 0.75, 0.66, and 0.75, respectively. However, removing either the fertility estimated breeding value or animal genotype from model 7 resulted in a reduction of the prediction accuracy of only 0.01 and 0.02, respectively. In conclusion, this study indicates that MIR and other on-farm data could be used to classify cows of good and poor likelihood of conception with promising accuracy.

publication date

  • 2019