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Growth characteristics, reproductive performance, and evaluation of their associative relationships in Brangus cattle managed in a Chihuahuan Desert production system¹

Luna-Nevarez, P., Bailey, D.W., Bailey, C.C., VanLeeuwen, D.M., Enns, R.M., Silver, G.A., DeAtley, K.L., Thomas, M.G.
Journal of animal science 2010 v.88 no.5 pp. 1891-1904
beef cattle, zebu, Brangus, food animals, deserts, animal husbandry, livestock production, beef bulls, heifers, calves, beef cows, birth weight, body weight, liveweight gain, pregnancy, fecundity, animal age, mathematical models, animal growth, calving interval, female fertility, New Mexico
Balancing growth and reproductive performance in beef cattle managed in desert environments is challenging. Our objectives were to 1) evaluate trends in growth and reproductive traits, and 2) assess associative relationships between growth characteristics and reproductive performance in a Brangus herd managed in a Chihuahuan Desert production system from 1972 to 2006. Data were from bull (n = 597) and heifer calves (n = 585; 1988 to 2006) and cows (n = 525; repeated records of cows, n = 2,611; 1972 to 2006). Variables describing the growth curve of each cow were estimated using a nonlinear logistic function (each cow needed 6 yr of data). Mixed-effect models and logistic regression were used to analyze trends across years in growth and reproductive traits (both continuous and categorical). For continuous traits of calves, a slight cubic response (P < 0.01) described the dynamics of birth weight, 205-d BW, and 365-d BW across years. For categorical traits of females, positive linear trends (P < 0.05) across years were observed in percent pregnant as yearlings, calved at 2 yr of age, and first-calf heifer rebreeding (slopes ranged from 0.007 to 0.014%/yr). Autumn cow BW increased gradually until 1997 (509 kg ± 8.8) and then decreased gradually by 0.6 kg/yr, whereas pregnancy percentage decreased gradually until 1995 (78.4% ± 1.0) and then increased slightly by 0.2%/yr. A quadratic effect best described the dynamics of these 2 variables across years (P < 0.01) as well as estimates describing the growth curve of each cow. Specifically, asymptotic BW and age increased (P < 0.05) from 1972 to 1983 and 1990, respectively. Asymptotic age then decreased by 27% from 1983 to 1996 (P < 0.05). The maturing rate index was negatively correlated with age at first calving and calving interval (r = -0.42 and -0.18, P < 0.01), which suggested that early-maturing cows had enhanced fertility in this environment and production system. In summary, minimal changes were observed in measures of growth in bulls and heifers in a Brangus herd managed in the Chihuahuan Desert. Opposing relationships were observed among measures of cow size and fertility; as growth curves shifted toward earlier maturity, measures of reproductive performance suggested that fertility improved.