Long-term selection experiment with Afrikaner cattle 4. Cow fertility and calf survival

Author: L.M. Beffa, J.B. van Wyk and G.J. Erasmus
Year: 2009
Issue: 2
Volume: 39
Page: 114 - 126

A selection and line x environment interaction study with grade Afrikaner cattle was established in 1956 at the 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, after approximately two generations of selection, lines were sub-divided into 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 recorded over six generations of selection (40 years) were analyzed. The average incidence of calving success (the presence or absence of a calf) was 68%. Heritability and repeatability (in parenthesis) estimates for calving success and calving date were 0.08 ± 0.02 (0.10 ± 0.02) and 0.09 ± 0.02 (0.17 ± 0.02), respectively. Favourable genetic trends were shown (-0.8 ± 0.09 days/generation for calving date). Correlation estimates of sires’ EBV between measures of fertility and growth were all unfavourable. A significant interaction was manifested for calving success and was due to the markedly poorer performance (10 percentage units) of the S line cows in the NS environment. The interaction serves to reinforce the commonly held principle that cattle, and in particular breeding cows, be reared in a similar environment in which selection takes place advocating antagonistic selection (upwards selection in a poor environment). Calf losses within the first 24 h of birth and pre-weaning were 3.8% and 8%, with heritability estimates of 0.15 ± 0.07 and 0.07 ± 0.03, respectively. It is recommended that fertility and calf survival be included in routine breed evaluations. There is a need to implement data collection strategies to ensure that all calving activities are comprehensively recorded.

Keywords: genetic correlation, genetic parameters, genotype x environment interaction, Sanga, sub-tropics
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