Heritability estimates associated with alternative definitions of mastitis and correlations with somatic cell score and yield

J. E. Vallimont, C. D. Dechow, C. G. Sattler, J. S. Clay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


The objectives of this study were to compare alternative mastitis definitions and to estimate genetic correlations of producer-recorded mastitis with somatic cell score (SCS) and yield. Cow health events and lactation records from June 2002 through October 2007 were provided by Dairy Records Management Systems (Raleigh, NC). First- through fifth-lactation records from cows calving between 20 and 120 mo of age and that calved in a herd-year with at least 1% of cows with a clinical mastitis event were retained. The edited data contained 118,516 lactation records and 1,072,741 test-day records of 64,893 cows. Mastitis occurrence (1 = at least one mastitis event during lactation or test-day interval, 0 = no mastitis events), number of mastitis events during lactation, SCS, and yield were analyzed with animal models (single trait) or sire-maternal grandsire models (multiple trait) in ASREML. Comparisons were made among models assuming a normal distribution, a binary distribution, or Poisson distribution (for total episodes). The overall incidence of clinical mastitis was 15.4%; and heritability estimates ranged from 0.73% (test-day interval mastitis with a linear model) to 11.07% (number of mastitis episodes with a Poisson model). Increased mastitis incidence was genetically correlated with higher SCS (range 0.66 to 0.88) and was generally correlated with higher yield (range -0.03 to 0.40), particularly during first lactation (0.04 to 0.40). Significant genetic variation exists for clinical mastitis; and health events recorded by producers could be used to generate genetic evaluations for cow health. Sires ranked similarly for daughter mastitis susceptibility regardless of how mastitis was defined; however, test-day interval mastitis and a total count of mastitis episodes per lactation allow a higher proportion of mastitis treatments to be included in the genetic analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3402-3410
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of dairy science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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