11 September 1998


TYPE traits and actual completed lactations are to be included in a new lifespan predicted transmitting ability (PTA) for dairy sires.

These PTAs will also be included in a new index which will shortly replace ITEM.

The interest in lifespan comes as reducing replacement rate becomes an increasing concern in dairy herds. Producers, faced with low cull values from the over 30-month scheme, are keen to increase cow longevity. That is where new information on lifespan PTA could help, says Gordon Swanson of the Animal Data Centre.

"When researchers at Edinburgh University and SAC started to develop ITEM, they identified type traits – angularity, foot angle, udder depth and teat length – which were associated with animals surviving for longer in the dairy herd.

"But these type traits have only a moderate association with longevity. Because of that, their inclusion in ITEM means there is really only a small difference between PIN and ITEM for most animals.

"That led us to start look for ways of improving accuracy of herd life prediction, which would give a bigger difference between PIN and ITEM," says Mr Swanson.

Assessment of an increased pool of linear type data, coupled with introduction of actual survival based on lactations completed by a cow produces the new lifespan PTA. This can be used by producers to assess whether a bull will increase daughter longevity.

The increased pool of linear type data from the Holstein Friesian Society has shown researchers at SAC and Edinburgh University that fore-udder attachment, foot angle, udder depth and teat length have the greatest effect on herd life.

"Angularity, which was previously used in ITEM, was found to have no correlation, while fore-udder attachment had a strong relationship with lifespan," he adds.

The analysis was repeated by the ADC with linear trait data from Ayrshires, and the same four traits were found to be highly correlated with longevity, says Mr Swanson.

"We will repeat the analysis with linear traits from other breeds as soon as we have enough information. But we are fairly confident that the same four traits reflect longevity in all breeds, meaning we produce lifespan PTAs for all breeds."

Longevity score

Now all type classified animals will be awarded a longevity score, based on fore-udder attachment, foot angle, udder depth and teat length. This data is available during the first lactation, meaning a prediction of cow survival can be obtained early in life.

The number of lactations a cow completes are analysed to calculate a lifespan score. Cows are awarded an incremental score the longer they remain in the herd, so cows with good longevity will score most; those lasting one lactation will score one, while those achieving five lactations and still living will be awarded a lifespan score of about eight.

Combining type trait information – the longevity score and lactation information give the lifespan score – means a lifespan PTA can be calculated, says Mr Swanson. This joint evaluation of scores improves accuracy of the final PTA.

The evaluation is carried out using a technique, which, as well as including data from daughters, can also take information from relatives into account to help calculate the PTA of any individual. It also removes any factors, such as management, which could unduly influence scores.

"Initially, as linear type information is obtained during the first lactation, lifespan PTA is based predominantly on this information. But increasing lactation information will substantially increase lifespan PTA accuracy."

Minimum reliability for ADC publication is 30%, which means that about 18 daughters with linear type classification will be required before a bull can have a published lifespan PTA.

"Higher reliability can only be obtained once completed lactation number is included. This means that current low reliability should be viewed with caution, they may change greatly as more information becomes available."

Bulls with best lifespan scores are likely to transmit an additional half lactation the their progeny, while the poorest ones might reduce herd life by half a lactation. In practice, this indicates the ability of daughters to withstand involuntary culling.

Mr Swanson advises treating lifespan as a secondary selection trait. "Lifespan, like somatic cell count information, is a secondary consideration. Production must remain the key criteria for bull choice, but lifespan PTAs will help you make a better decision about choosing a bull."


&#8226 Linear trait assessment.

&#8226 Completed lactations.

&#8226 Combined as lifespan PTA.

&#8226 Currently low accuracy.