Characterization of Holstein Heifer Fertility in the United States

  • Kuhn M
  • Hutchison J
  • Wiggans G
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The overall object of this research was to characterize US Holstein (virgin) heifer fertility. This included investigation of factors influencing heifer fertility and estimation of heritability, as well as correlations with cow fertility and first-lactation milk yield. A secondary objective was to compare linear and logistic model estimates of fixed effects and linear and threshold model estimates of heritability. Data consisted of Holstein heifers, which were artificially inseminated, with their first breeding between March 2003 and August 2005. Herds were required to have at least 60 breedings across the 3 yr of data and an overall mean conception rate (CR) between 20 and 80%. After edits there were 537,938 breedings of 362,512 heifers in 2,668 herds from 41 states used for analysis. After edits, the overall mean CR for US Holstein heifers was 57%. Linear and logistic model estimates for all factors were nearly identical. Year of breeding accounted for the most variation in heifer CR, with heifer age and month of breeding being the next most important factors. Conception rate in heifers is maximal at an intermediate age of 15 to 16 mo. Heifers at 26 mo of age and older have roughly a 10% lower CR than heifers bred at younger ages. Although month of breeding affected heifer CR, effects are less than for cows. In contrast to cow fertility, heifer CR is nearly as good in the hotter summer months as in cooler months. Approximately 88% of US herds had a 40 to 70% heifer CR. Heritability estimates of heifer CR on first service were 0.5% from the linear model and 1.0% from the threshold model. Genetic correlation estimates of heifer CR on first service with cow CR on first service and with first-lactation milk yield were 0.39 and -0.19, respectively. Results indicated that selection on either the currently available US daughter pregnancy rate evaluations for cow fertility or on cow CR will also improve heifer fertility. Furthermore, heritability of heifer CR is lower than for cow CR and reporting of heifer breedings is currently less complete than for cow breedings. Thus, there are currently no immediate plans to implement a US genetic evaluation for heifer CR.

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  • M.T. Kuhn

  • J.L. Hutchison

  • G.R. Wiggans

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