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Genetic parameters of blood urea nitrogen and milk urea nitrogen concentration in dairy cattle managed in pasture-based production systems of New Zealand and Australia

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posted on 08.02.2022, 23:19 by I Van Den Berg, PN Ho, M Haile-Mariam, PR Beatson, E O'Connor, Jennie PryceJennie Pryce
Context: Urinary nitrogen excretion by grazing cattle causes environmental pollution. Selecting for cows with a lower concentration of urinary nitrogen excretion may reduce the environmental impact. While urinary nitrogen excretion is difficult to measure, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), mid-infrared spectroscopy (MIR)-predicted BUN (MBUN), which is predicted from MIR spectra measured on milk samples, and milk urea nitrogen (MUN) are potential indicator traits. Australia and New Zealand have increasing datasets of cows with urea records, with 18 120 and 15 754 cows with urea records in Australia and New Zealand respectively. A collaboration between Australia and New Zealand could further increase the size of the dataset by sharing data. Aims: Our aims were to estimate genetic parameters for urea traits within country, and genetic correlations between countries to gauge the benefit of having a joint reference population for genomic prediction of an indicator trait that is potentially suitable for selection to reduce urinary nitrogen excretion for both countries. Methods: Genetic parameters were estimated within country (Australia and New Zealand) in Holstein, Jersey and a multibreed population, for BUN, MBUN and MUN in Australia and MUN in New Zealand, using high-density genotypes. Genetic correlations were also estimated between the urea traits recorded in Australia and MUN in New Zealand. Analyses used the first record available for each cow or within days-in-milk (DIM) intervals. Key results: Heritabilities ranged from 0.08 to 0.32 for the various urea traits. Higher heritabilities were obtained for Jersey than for Holstein, and for the New Zealand cows than for the Australian cows. While urea traits were highly correlated within Australia (0.71-0.94), genetic correlations between Australia and New Zealand were small to moderate (0.08-0.58). Conclusions: Our results showed that the heritability for urea traits differs among trait, breed, and country. While urea traits are highly correlated within country, genetic correlations between urea traits in Australia and MUN in New Zealand were only low to moderate. Implications: Further study is required to identify the underlying causes of the difference in heritabilities observed, to compare the accuracies of different reference populations, and to estimate genetic correlations between urea traits and other traits such as fertility and feed intake. Larger datasets may help estimate genetic correlations more accurately between countries.


This study was undertaken as a collaboration between the DairyBio program and CRV. DairyBio is jointly funded by Dairy Australia (Melbourne, Australia) and Agriculture Victoria (Melbourne, Australia) and The Gardiner Foundation (Melbourne, Australia).


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Animal Production Science






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