Female fertility is increasingly gaining importance in national dairy cattle breeding objectives worldwide. In South Africa, there is no routine prediction of breeding values for reproductive performance in dairy cattle and selection is mainly focused on production traits. The objective of this study was to estimate genetic parameters among female fertility traits (age at first calving and calving interval) and first, second and third lactation production traits in South African Holstein cattle to determine the effect that selection on production per se may have on female fertility. Performance records on 40 437 South African Holstein cows in 766 herds were used. (Co)variance estimates were obtained by multitrait analysis, using the REML procedure. Heritability estimates were moderate for age at first calving (0.24 ± 0.02) and low for calving interval (0.03 ± 0.01). Genetic correlations between age at first calving and yield traits were low to moderately negative, ranging from -0.17 ± 0.07 with second lactation butterfat percentage to -0.50 ± 0.05 with first lactation butterfat yield. Calving interval had moderate to highly positive genetic correlations with yield traits, ranging from 0.37 ± 0.10 with second lactation milk yield to 0.69 ± 0.06 with first lactation milk yield. Correlations between female fertility and butterfat and protein percentages across all lactations, were close to zero. The observed antagonistic relationship between calving interval and production traits highlights the need to include calving interval in breeding objectives for South African Holstein cattle.
"Experientia docet" - Experience is the best teacher