Genetic evaluation of health costs in US organic Holstein calves and cows

L. C. Hardie, I. W. Haagen, B. J. Heins, C. D. Dechow

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Minimizing the incidence of disease on organic dairy farms is important for both economic and animal welfare purposes. The objective of this study was to estimate genetic parameters for total disease treatment costs using producer-recorded treatments in organic Holstein dairy calves and cows. Individual cow and calf health data were collected from 16 USDA certified organic farms from across the United States. Eleven of these farms provided treatment costs for some or all of the following cow health issues (mean cost): mastitis ($46.10), milk fever ($39.05), ketosis ($29.81), metritis ($28.66), retained placenta ($45.59), displaced abomasum ($439.71), lameness ($66.36), indigestion ($22.94), respiratory ($48.35), and died ($64.98). These farms also provided the following health costs for calves (mean cost): respiratory ($56.37) and scours ($25.21). Costs included consultant fees, therapeutics, and producer labor. The total lactational health cost (HCOST) was analyzed using animal models adjusted for the fixed effects of lactation and herd and the random effect of herd-year-season of calving with animal relationships based on the blending of pedigree and genomic relationships established from 2,347 genotyped cows. Along with HCOST, the binary traits stayability and presence of disease were included in a trivariate model such that lactations absent of disease were considered to be missing HCOST. To estimate the genetic relationship between nulliparous and primiparous health costs, a 2-trait linear model was fitted for total nulliparous health costs (NHCOST) and first lactation HCOST. The most expensive cow-lactation was $643.86 and 26.5% of lactations encountered disease. The heritability for HCOST was 0.03 ± 0.01, and the repeatability was 0.21 ± 0.01. The heritability of NHCOST was 0.06 ± 0.01, and the genetic correlation between NHCOST and HCOST was 0.98 ± 0.51. Traits representing the repeated nature of disease have a genetic component that should foster improved disease resistance among organic Holstein dairy cows. However, total cost of disease did not lead to gains in genetic variation over consideration of disease traits considered as binary variables and is a more laborious phenotype to obtain, diminishing its appeal for use in routine genetic evaluations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)464-468
Number of pages5
JournalJDS Communications
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Animal Science and Zoology

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