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Genetic analysis of subclinical mastitis in early lactation of heifers using both linear and threshold models

Narayana, Saranya G., Miglior, Filippo, Naqvi, S. Ali, Malchiodi, Francesca, Martin, Pauline, Barkema, Herman W.
Journal of dairy science 2018 v.101 no.12 pp. 11120-11131
Holstein, animal models, bovine mastitis, dairy farming, data collection, daughters, early lactation, financial economics, genetic analysis, genetic correlation, genetic resistance, genetic similarity, genetic variation, heifers, herds, heritability, linear models, milk, milk production, natural selection, parity (reproduction), sires, somatic cell count, threshold models
Subclinical mastitis (SCM) causes economic losses for dairy producers by reducing milk production and leading to higher incidence of clinical mastitis and premature culling. The prevalence of SCM in first-lactation heifers is highest during early lactation. The objective of this study was to estimate genetic parameters for SCM in early lactation in first-parity Holsteins. Somatic cell count test-day records were collected monthly in 91 Canadian herds participating in the National Cohort of Dairy Farms of the Canadian Bovine Mastitis Research Network. Only the first test-day record available between 5 and 30 d in milk was considered for analysis. The final data set contained 8,518 records from first lactation Holstein heifers. Six alternative traits were defined as indicators of SCM, using various cutoff values of SCC, ranging from 150,000 to 400,000 cells/mL. Both linear and threshold animal models were used. Overall prevalence of SCM using the 6 traits ranged from 13 to 24%. Heritability estimates (standard error) from linear and threshold models ranged from 0.037 to 0.057 (0.015 to 0.018) and from 0.040 to 0.051 (0.017 to 0.020), respectively. We found strong genetic correlations (standard error) among alternative SCC traits, ranging from 0.90 to 0.99 (0.013 to 0.069), indicating that these 6 traits were genetically similar. Despite low heritability, based on estimated breeding values (EBV) predicted from both models, we noted exploitable genetic variation among sires. Higher EBV of SCM resistance corresponded to sires with a higher percentage of daughters without SCM. Based on a linear model (all 6 traits), percentage of daughters with SCM ranged from 5 to 13% and from 19 to 33% for the top 10% and worst 10% of 69 sires with minimum 20 daughters in at least 5 herds, respectively. Spearman's rank correlations among EBV of sires predicted from linear (from 0.75 to 0.95) and threshold (from 0.74 to 0.95) models were moderate to high, respectively. Very high rank correlations (0.98 to 0.99) between EBV predicted for the same trait from linear and threshold model indicated that reranking of sires based on model used was minimal. In conclusion, despite low heritability, we found utilizable genetic variation in early lactation of heifers. Hence, genetic selection to improve genetic resistance to SCM in early lactation of heifers was deemed possible.