Genetic characterization of digital cushion thickness
Dairy cow lameness is a serious animal welfare issue. It is also a significant cause of economic losses, reducing reproductive efficiency and milk production and increasing culling rates. The digital cushion is a complex structure composed mostly of adipose tissue located underneath the distal phalanx and has recently been phenotypically associated with incidence of claw horn disruption lesions (CHDL); namely, sole ulcers and white line disease. The objective of this study was to characterize digital cushion thickness genetically and to investigate its association with body condition score (BCS), locomotion score (LOCO), CHDL, and milk production. Data were collected from 1 large closely monitored commercial dairy farm located in upstate New York; 923 dairy cows were used. Before trimming, the following data were collected by a member of the research team: BCS, cow height measurement, and LOCO. Presence or not of CHDL (sole ulcer or white line disease, or both) was recorded at trimming. Immediately after the cows were hoof trimmed, they underwent digital sonographic B-mode examination for the measurement of digital cushion thickness. Factors such as parity number, stage of lactation, calving date, mature-equivalent 305-d milk yield (ME305MY), and pedigree information were obtained from the farm’s dairy management software (DairyCOMP 305; Valley Agricultural Software, Tulare, CA). Univariate animal models were used to obtain variance component estimations for each studied trait (CHDL, BCS, digital cushion thickness average, LOCO, height, and ME305MY) and a 6-variate analysis was conducted to estimate the genetic, residual, and phenotypic correlations between the studied traits. The heritability estimate of DCTA was 0.33 ± 0.09, whereas a statistically significant genetic correlation was estimated between DCTA and CHDL (−0.60 ± 0.29). Of the other genetic correlations, significant estimates were derived for BCS with LOCO (−0.49 ± 0.19) and ME305MY (−0.48 ± 0.20). Digital cushion thickness is moderately heritable and genetically strongly correlated with CHDL.
Journal Title/Title of Proceedings
Journal of Dairy Science