The objective of this study was to determine the extent that genetic selection can help reduce dairy cow mortality and early lactation culling in adverse cow survival environments. Two datasets were constructed. The first contained 100,911 mortality records and 171,178 sixty-day culling records from 1467 herds. Cows that left the herd (culled or died) from 21 days prior to a due date through 60 days in milk were considered a 60-day cull. Cows were classified as belonging to herds with adverse cow survival environments (≥4.4% mortality rate and ≥7.1% 60-day cull rate) or favorable cow survival environments (<4.4% mortality rate and <7.1% 60-day cull rate). The second dataset included 20,438 mortality records and 34,942 sixty-day culling records from 314 herds with a known herd management system. Cows from both datasets were stratified into quartiles based on their sire's predicted transmitting ability (PTA) for productive life and other traits. Cows in the first dataset were also stratified into high (>50th percentile) and low (≤50th percentile) groups based on their sire's PTA for daughter calving ease and daughter stillbirth rates. Mortality and 60-day culling in the first dataset were evaluated with logistic regression models with the independent effects of sire PTA quartile, cow survival environment (adverse or favorable), the interaction of sire PTA quartile with cow survival environment, lactation number, age within lactation number, and herd-calving-cluster. The second dataset was analyzed in the same manner, but with cow survival environment replaced by herd management system. The estimated proportion of lactations that ended in death declined from 9.0% to 6.8% and 60-day culling incidence from 7.6% to 4.9% as sire productive life PTA went from the lowest to highest quartile in adverse cow survival environments. The corresponding reduction in mortality (0.7%) and 60-day culling (0.9%) were also significant in favorable cow survival environments. Mortality and 60-day culling both declined by 2.0% from low to high sire productive life PTA quartile in complete confinement free-stalls, which was the most unfavorable herd management system for cow survival. Daughters of bulls with high somatic cell score PTA and low daughter pregnancy rate PTA had higher incidences of mortality and 60-day culling, and 60-day culling was higher for daughters of sires with high milk and protein yield PTA. Selection to reduce stillbirth risk was associated with less mortality and 60-day culling, whereas mortality risk was reduced in favorable cow survival environments with selection to lower the incidence of stillbirths and calving difficulty. In conclusion, this study provides evidence that sire selection can play an important role in reducing the incidence of mortality and early lactation culling, particularly in herds with adverse cow survival environments.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Food Animals
- Animal Science and Zoology