Genomic evaluation for calf wellness traits in Holstein cattle.


Zoetis Genetics, Kalamazoo, MI 49007. Electronic address: [Email]


Reducing calf morbidity and mortality is important for attaining financial sustainability and improving animal welfare on commercial dairy operations. Zoetis (Kalamazoo, MI) has developed genomic predictions for calf wellness traits in Holsteins that include calf respiratory disease (RESP; recorded between 0 and 365 d of age), calf scours (DIAR; recorded between 2 and 50 d of age), and calf livability (DEAD; recorded between 2 and 365 d of age). Phenotype and pedigree data were from commercial dairies and provided directly by producers upon obtaining their permission. The number of records ranged from 741,484 for DIAR to 1,926,261 for DEAD. The number of genotyped animals was 325,025. All traits were analyzed using a univariate threshold animal model including fixed effect of year of birth × calving season × region, and random effects of herd × year of birth and animal. A total of 45,425 SNP were used in genomic analyses. Animals genotyped with low-density chips were imputed to the required number of SNP. All analyses were conducted using single-step genomic BLUP implementing the "algorithm for proven and young" (APY) animals designed to accommodate very large numbers of genotypes. Estimated heritabilities were 0.042, 0.045, and 0.060 for RESP, DIAR, and DEAD, respectively. The genomic predicted transmitting abilities ranged between -8.0 and 24.0, -11.5 and 28.5, and -6.5 to 22.8 for RESP, DIAR, and DEAD, respectively. Reliabilities of breeding values were obtained by approximation based on partitioning of a function of reliability into contributions from records, pedigree, and genotypes, where the genotype contribution was approximated using the diagonal value of the genomic relationship matrix. The average reliabilities for the genotyped animals were 41.9, 42.6, and 47.3% for RESP, DIAR, and DEAD, respectively. Estimated genomic predicted transmitting abilities and reliabilities were approximately normally distributed for all analyzed traits. Approximated genetic correlations of calf wellness with Zoetis dairy wellness traits and traits included in the US national genetic evaluation were low to moderate. The results indicate that direct evaluation of calf wellness traits under a genomic threshold model is feasible and offers predictions with average reliabilities comparable to other lowly heritable traits. Genetic selection for calf wellness traits presents a compelling opportunity for dairy producers to help manage herd replacement costs and improve overall profitability.


calf livability,calf wellness,genomic predictions,respiratory disease,scours,