The objectives of this study were to estimate genetic parameters of calf health in organic US Holstein calves. Calves were born on farms across the United States from 2006 to 2019. Three calf health traits were evaluated in the study: calf respiratory disease until 365 d of age, calf scours until 60 d of age, and heifer stayability until 365 d of age. For respiratory disease and scours, animals were assigned a phenotype of 0 if they were healthy and a phenotype of 1 if they were diseased. For stayability, animals were assigned a phenotype of 0 if they were removed from the herd by 365 d of age and 1 if they remained in the herd at 365 d of age. Genetic parameters were estimated from threshold models that included the fixed effects of mean, year-season of birth, and dam age (respiratory disease and scours only) as well as the random effects of herd-year of birth and additive genetics. Heritability estimates were 0.100, 0.075, and 0.085 for respiratory disease, scours, and stayability, respectively. Solutions for estimated breeding values for respiratory disease and scours were transformed from disease risk to disease resistance by reversing the signs before calculating genetic correlations such that higher values of scours, respiratory disease, and stayability were favored. There was a moderate favorable genetic correlation estimate between respiratory disease resistance and stayability of 0.675. However, genetic correlation estimates between respiratory disease resistance and scours resistance (0.148) and between scours resistance and stayability (0.165) were low. Estimated breeding value correlations between calf health traits and other traits evaluated nationally were generally low in magnitude. The strongest correlation estimates were with longevity, particularly between stayability and heifer livability (0.217) and between stayability and cow livability (0.288); respiratory disease resistance was also favorably correlated with heifer (0.190) and cow (0.178) livability. Correlations with cow health traits were generally low and unfavorable. Linear models including the random effect of herd-by-sire indicated that herd-by-sire accounted for approximately 2% of phenotypic variance for scours and stayability, which may indicate a genotype by environment interaction effect for these traits. In conclusion, there is significant genetic variation in organic calf health, and there was evidence of genotype by environment interaction.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Food Science
- Animal Science and Zoology