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Genetic analysis of udder conformation traits derived from automatic milking system recording in dairy cows

Poppe, M., Mulder, H.A., Ducro, B.J., de Jong, G.
Journal of dairy science 2019 v.102 no.2 pp. 1386-1396
animal models, dairy cows, genetic analysis, genetic correlation, herds, heritability, lactation, longevity, milking machines, parity (reproduction), udders
Cartesian teat coordinates measured by automatic milking systems (AMS) provide new opportunities to record udder conformation traits and to study changes in udder conformation genetically and phenotypically within and between parities. The objective of this study was to estimate heritabilities and repeatabilities of AMS-based udder conformation traits within parities, to estimate genetic correlations between parities for AMS-based udder conformation traits, and to estimate genetic correlations between AMS-based udder conformation traits and classifier-based udder conformation traits, longevity, and udder health. Data from 70 herds, including 12,663 first-parity cows, 10,206 second-parity cows, and 7,627 third-parity cows, were analyzed using univariate and bivariate mixed animal models. Heritabilities of the AMS udder conformation traits were large (0.37–0.67) and genetic correlations between the AMS udder conformation traits and classifier-based traits were strong (>0.91). Repeatabilities within parities were large as well (0.89–0.97), indicating that a single record on udder conformation per lactation reflects udder conformation well. Genetic correlations of AMS udder conformation traits between parities were strong (0.88–1.00) and were stronger than the permanent environmental correlations. This shows that udder conformation changes over parities, but this change is mostly due to nongenetic factors. Based on these results, the current herd classification system, where cows are scored on udder conformation once in first parity, is sufficient. The AMS udder conformation traits as defined in this study have limited value as replacement for classifier-based udder conformation traits because they have smaller genetic correlations with functional traits than classifier-based traits. In summary, udder conformation hardly changes genetically between parities and is highly repeatable within parities. Udder conformation traits based on AMS need fine-tuning before they can replace classifier-based traits, and AMS teat coordinates probably contain additional information about udder health that is yet to be explored.