Genetic correlations among weight and cumulative productivity of crossbred beef cows

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Abstract

Mature weight of beef cows in the United States has been increasing as a correlated response to selection for calf growth. Unfavorable genetic correlations between cow weight and various measures of female fertility, stayability, and lifetime production suggest declining cow productivity might also be expected as a correlated response to growth selection. National cattle evaluations, however, show increasing trends for stayability and sustained fertility. Random regression (RR) models were employed to further examine genetic relationships among cow weight and productivity, and to assess cumulative productivity traits observed throughout cows' productive lives. Records were from 13,707 females born in the Germplasm Evaluation (GPE) project and mated to calve first as 2-yr olds. Weights observed at pregnancy testing (n = 65,086) and calf production from each exposure to breeding (n = 71,583) were included in uni-and bivariate RR analyses. Production following each breeding season was added to previous production to obtain cumulative production records for each season that the female was exposed to breeding. Zero was added if the cow failed to produce after a breeding season. The number of pregnancies, calves born and calves weaned, as well as age and weight of weaned calves, were accumulated. Projected age-specific heritability (h 2) estimates for cumulative production were low (<0.1) at age 2 but increased with age (0.12 to 0.26 at age 6; 0.32 to 0.48 at age 10). Estimated h 2 for cow weight were high, fluctuating between 0.6 and 0.7 from ages 2 through 10. Genetic correlations (r g) were positive among all ages within each trait. Between ages 3 and 9, estimated r g were negative between cumulative weaning productivity and cow weight. The correlations were usually weak enough (<-0.2) that small correlated declines from following yearling weight trends might be overcome by culling females after their first reproductive failure. More noticeable increases might be realized by selection among sires with EBV based on productivity of several daughters. The RR EBV for cow weight and cumulative weight weaned represent major sources of variation in cow costs and income, and can be incorporated into economic selection indexes to project differences in cow profitability and value at any age. The RR approach utilizes all available records, enabling later productivity to be projected from observations on young cows.

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Snelling, W. M., Kuehn, L. A., Thallman, R. M., Bennett, G. L., & Golden, B. L. (2019). Genetic correlations among weight and cumulative productivity of crossbred beef cows. Journal of Animal Science, 97(1), 63–77. https://doi.org/10.1093/jas/sky420

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