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RESEARCH ARTICLE

The genetics of cow growth and body composition at first calving in two tropical beef genotypes

M. L. Wolcott A B D , D. J. Johnston A B , S. A. Barwick A , N. J. Corbet A C and P. J. Williams A C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Cooperative Research Centre for Beef Genetic Technologies, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

B Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit1

1AGBU is a joint venture of NSW Department of Primary Industries and the University of New England.

, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

C CSIRO Livestock Industries, Rockhampton, Qld 4702, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: mwolcott@une.edu.au

Animal Production Science 54(1) 37-49 https://doi.org/10.1071/AN12427
Submitted: 14 December 2012  Accepted: 23 May 2013   Published: 20 August 2013

Abstract

The genetics of cow growth and body composition traits, measured before first calving (pre-calving: in females before calving following their first 3-month annual mating period, at an average age of 34 months) and at the start of the subsequent mating period (Mating 2: on average 109 days later), were evaluated in 1016 Brahman (BRAH) and 1094 Tropical Composite (TCOMP) cows. Measurements analysed were liveweight, ultrasound-scanned measurements of P8 and 12/13th rib fat depth and eye muscle area, body condition score and hip height. Traits describing the change in these from pre-calving to Mating 2 were also included in the analysis. The maternal genetic component of weaning weight was estimated from weaning-weight records on these cows, their steer half-sibs and their progeny generated from up to six matings (n = 12 528). Within pregnant cows at pre-calving, BRAH were significantly lighter, leaner at the P8 site and taller than their TCOMP contemporaries, and these differences were also significant at Mating 2. There was a genetic basis for variation in growth and body composition traits measured at pre-calving and Mating 2 in BRAH (h2 = 0.27–0.67) and TCOMP (h2 = 0.25–0.87). Traits describing the change from pre- calving to Mating 2 were also moderately heritable for both genotypes (h2 = 0.17–0.54), except for change in hip height (h2 = 0.00 and 0.10 for BRAH and TCOMP, respectively). Genetic correlations between measurements of the same trait at pre-calving and Mating 2 were consistently positive and strong (rg = 0.75–0.98) and similar for both genotypes. In lactating cows, genetic correlations of growth and body composition traits with their change from pre-calving to Mating 2 showed that when animals had low levels of P8 and rib fat at Mating 2, change in eye muscle area was an important descriptor of genetic body condition score (rg = 0.63). This was supported by moderate genetic relationships, which suggested that lactating cows that were genetically predisposed to lose less eye muscle area were those that ended the period with higher P8 fat (rg = 0.66), rib fat (rg = 0.72) and body condition score (rg = 0.61). Change in liveweight, body condition score and, in particular, eye muscle area was significantly related to the maternal genetic component of weaning weight (rg = from –0.40 to –0.85) in both genotypes, suggesting that cows with higher genetic milk-production potential were those with the propensity for greater loss of these traits over the period from pre-calving to Mating 2. These results showed that for tropically adapted cows, the change in eye muscle area from pre-calving to Mating 2 was a more important descriptor of body condition at Mating 2 than was change in fat depth, and that higher genetic milk-production potential, measured as maternal weaning weight, was genetically related to higher mobilisation of muscle, and therefore body condition, over this period.

Additional keywords: lactation, maternal weaning weight, pregnancy, weight loss.


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