A research herd with divergent genetic merit for fertility was established to better understand the underlying drivers of fertility in dairy cattle. This paper describes the establishment of this herd, heifer growth and development, and the effect of divergence in fertility breeding value (FBV) on the timing of puberty. The average FBV of the high and low fertility groups of heifers was +5.6 and -4.6, respectively. The heifers were weighed fortnightly, with body condition score (BCS) and stature recorded at six, nine, 12 and 15 months of age. Weight and age at puberty were defined as the first day when plasma progesterone was >1 ng/ml in two of three consecutive once weekly samples. There was no effect of FBV on live weight (LWT), BCS, nor stature by age as the heifers matured. High-fertility heifers attained puberty at a lighter LWT (271 vs. 296 kg; SED 4.3 kg), an earlier age (358 vs. 379 days; SED 6.0 days) and a lower proportion of estimated mature LWT (51 vs. 55%; SED 0.7%), compared with Low-fertility heifers. Therefore, the premise that high genetic merit for fertility is positively associated with reaching puberty earlier is supported. Further work is required to support and assess the value of incorporating a puberty trait into the FBV.
Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production, Volume 77, Rotorua, 205-210, 2017
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