Quantification of the effect of in-utero events on lifetime resilience in dairy cows

Kate Lewis*, Laura Shewbridge Carter, Andrew Bradley, Richard Dewhurst, Niamh Forde, Robert Hyde, Jasmeet Kaler, Margaret D March, Colin Mason, Luke O'Grady, Sam Strain, Jake Thompson, Martin Green

*Corresponding author for this work

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Currently, the dairy industry is facing many challenges that could affect its sustainability, including climate change and public perception of the industry. As a result, interest is increasing in the concept of identifying resilient animals, those with a long productive lifespan, good reproductive performance and milk yield. There is much evidence that events in utero, i.e., the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD), alter life-course health of offspring and we hypothesized that these could alter resilience in calves, where resilience is identified using lifetime data. The aim of this study was to quantify lifetime resilience scores (LRS) using an existing scoring system based on longevity with secondary corrections for age at first calving and calving interval and to quantify the effects of in-utero events on the LRS using 2 data sets. The first was a large data set of cattle in 83 farms in Great Britain born from 2006 to 2015 and the second was a smaller, more granular data set of cattle born between 2003 and 2015 in the Langhill research herd at Scotland's Rural College. Events during dam's pregnancy included health events (lameness, mastitis, use of an antibiotic or anti-inflammatory medication), the impact of heat stress as measured by temperature-humidity index and perturbations in milk yield and quality (somatic cell count, percentage fat, percentage protein and fat:protein ratio). Daughters born to dams that experienced higher temperature-humidity indexes while they were in-utero during the first and third trimesters of pregnancy had lower LRS. Daughter LRS scores were also lower where milk yields or median fat percentages in the first trimester were low, and when milk yields were high in the third trimester. Dam LRS was positively associated with LRS of their offspring, however, as parity of the dam increased, LRS of their calves decreased. Similarly, in the Langhill herd, dams of a higher parity produced calves with lower LRS. Additionally, dams which recorded a high max locomotion score in the third trimester of pregnancy were negatively associated with lower calf LRS in the Langhill herd. Our results suggest that events that occur during pregnancy have lifelong consequences for the calf's lifetime performance. However, experience of higher temperature-humidity indexes, higher dam LRS scores and mothers in higher parities explained a relatively small proportion of variation in offspring LRS, which suggests that other factors play a substantial role in determining calf LRS scores. While 'big data' can contain a considerable amount of noise, similar findings between the 2 data sets indicate it is likely these findings are real.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Early online date2 Feb 2024
Publication statusFirst published - 2 Feb 2024


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