Long-term selection experiment with Afrikaner cattle 1. Environmental factors affecting calf growth traits

Author: L.M. Beffa, J.B. van Wyk and G.J. Erasmus
Year: 2009
Issue: 2
Volume: 39
Page: 89 - 97

A selection and line x environment interaction study with grade Afrikaner cattle was established in 1956 at Matopos Research Station, Zimbabwe. Two selection lines of 100 cows each were reared in different management environments. The non-supplemented (NS) line relied on the range throughout the year and was mated to calve with the onset of the rains (December to February). The supplemented (S) line was offered protein-rich supplements during the dry season and mated to calve prior to the onset of the rains (October to December). In 1976 lines were sub-divided into four lines with 75 cows each, where one sub-line remained within each environment as a control; the remaining sub-lines were interchanged between environments. Bulls were selected on weaning weight within control lines, while replacement heifers were selected on weight at mating within sub-line. Data collected over a 40-year period (1958 to 1997) were analyzed. There were no line differences, however, productivity in the S environment was superior compared with the NS environment. While there were no environment differences in birth weight, calves born early in the S environment were estimated to be 90 kg (33%) heavier at 18 months than calves born late in the NS environment. The performance of calf growth from birth to 18 months in this study has emphasized the importance of matching animal physiological status with seasonal changes in the sub-tropics. The effect of previous lactation status (PLS) increased from 1.2 ± 0.13 kg at birth to 7 ± 0.6 kg at 205 days of age, a difference that persisted to 18 months (5 ± 0.9 kg). Given the significant and consistent detrimental effects of PLS on calf growth, it is recommended that this effect be considered in routine evaluations.

Keywords: beef cattle, growth traits, lactation status, Sanga, sub-tropics
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