Get access

Genetic parameters for energy balance, fat /protein ratio, body condition score and disease traits in German Holstein cows


N. Buttchereit, Institute of Animal Breeding and Husbandry, Christian-Albrechts-University, Olshausenstraße 40, D-24098 Kiel, Germany. Tel: +49 431 8801493; Fax: +49 431 8802588; E-mail:


Various health problems in dairy cows have been related to the magnitude and duration of the energy deficit post partum. Energy balance indicator traits like fat/protein ratio in milk and body condition score could be used in selection programmes to help predicting breeding values for health traits, but currently there is a lack of appropriate genetic parameters. Therefore, genetic correlations among energy balance, fat/protein ratio, and body condition score, and mastitis, claw and leg diseases, and metabolic disorders were estimated using linear and threshold models on data from 1693 primiparous cows recorded within the first 180 days in milk. Average daily energy balance, milk fat/protein ratio and body condition score were 8 MJ NEL, 1.13 and 2.94, respectively. Disease frequencies (% cows with at least one case) were 24.6% for mastitis, 9.7% for metabolic disorders and 28.2% for claw and leg diseases. Heritability estimates were 0.06, 0.30 and 0.34 for energy balance, fat/protein ratio and body condition score, respectively. For the disease traits, heritabilities ranged between 0.04 and 0.15. The genetic correlations were, in general, associated with large standard errors, but, although not significant, the results suggest that an improvement of overall health can be expected if energy balance traits are included into future breeding programmes. A low fat/protein ratio might serve as an indicator for metabolic stability and health of claw and legs. Between body condition and mastitis, a significant negative correlation of −0.40 was estimated. The study provides a new insight into the role energy balance traits can play as auxiliary traits for robustness of dairy cows. It was concluded that both, fat/protein ratio and body condition score, are potential variables to describe how well cows can adapt to the challenge of early lactation. However, the genetic parameters should be re-estimated on a more comprehensive data set.