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Associations between immune competence, stress responsiveness, and production in Holstein-Friesian and Holstein-Friesian × Jersey heifers reared in a pasture-based production system in Australia

Aleri, J.W., Hine, B.C., Pyman, M.F., Mansell, P.D., Wales, W.J., Mallard, B., Stevenson, M.A., Fisher, A.D.
Journal of dairy science 2019 v.102 no.4 pp. 3282-3294
Holstein, Jersey, antibodies, blood serum, calving, cell-mediated immunity, cortisol, dairy heifers, eggs, herds, immunocompetence, lactation, milk, milk fat, milk proteins, milk yield, parasites, phenotype, protein content, rearing, somatic cell count, udders, vaccines, Australia
The objectives of this study were to assess antibody and cellular immune responses in first-lactation dairy heifers reared under a pasture-based production system and to investigate associations between immune competence and stress responsiveness, health, and productivity. A commercial vaccine was used to induce antibody and cellular immune responses and, based on measured responses, animals were classified as above average, average, and below average for each trait independently and in combination (overall immune competence). Overall immune competence phenotypic rankings were generated by combining standardized residual values for antibody and cellular responses measured in individual heifers. Cortisol responses to handling and yarding were used to assess stress responsiveness, worm egg counts were used to assess internal parasite burden, somatic cell counts to assess udder health and estimates of total daily milk volume, and milk fat and milk protein contents to assess productivity. A total of 393 Holstein-Friesian and Holstein-Friesian × Jersey crossbred heifers from 2 herds practicing seasonal calving in a pasture-fed production system were enrolled in the study. The immune competence phenotypes of individual heifers were assessed before their first mating and their subsequent performance during their first lactation was monitored. Animals with below-average antibody and cellular immune competence had higher serum cortisol concentrations compared with their counterparts following handling, suggesting they had a reduced ability to cope with management-induced stress. Furthermore, a significant negative (favorable) correlation was observed between antibody responses and stress responsiveness. Similarly, correlations between antibody responses and internal parasite burden were significant and negative (favorable). No correlations were observed between overall immune competence and milk yield, milk fat, and milk protein content.