Can greenhouse gases in breath be used to genetically improve feed efficiency of dairy cows?.
There is considerable interest in improving feed utilization of dairy cattle while limiting losses to the environment (i.e., greenhouse gases, GHG). To breed for feed-efficient or climate-friendly cattle, it is first necessary to obtain accurate estimates of genetic parameters and correlations of feed intake, greenhouse gases, and production traits. Reducing dry matter take (DMI) requirements while maintaining production has high economic value to farmers, but DMI is costly to record and thus limited to small research or nucleus herds. Conversely, enteric methane (CH4) currently has no economic value, is also costly to record, and is limited to small experimental trials. However, breath gas concentrations of methane (CH4c) and carbon dioxide (CO2c) are relatively cheap to measure at high throughput under commercial conditions by installing sniffers in automated milking stations. The objective of this study was to assess the genetic correlations between DMI, body weight (BW), fat- and protein-corrected milk yield (FPCM), and GHG-related traits: CH4c and CO2c from Denmark (DNK) and the Netherlands (NLD). A second objective was to assess the genetic potential for improving feed efficiency and the added benefits of using CH4c and CO2c as indicators. Feed intake data were available on 703 primiparous cows in DNK and 524 in NLD; CH4c and CO2c records were available on 434 primiparous cows in DNK and 656 in NLD. The GHG-related traits were heritable (e.g., CH4c h2: DNK = 0.26, NLD = 0.15) but were differentially genetically correlated with DMI and feed efficiency in both magnitude and sign, depending on the population and the definition of feed efficiency. Across feed efficiency traits and DMI, having bulls with 100 daughters with FPCM, BW, and GHG traits resulted in sufficiently high accuracy to almost negate the need for DMI records. Despite differences in genetic correlation structure, the relatively cheap GHG-related traits showed considerable potential for improving the accuracy of breeding values of highly valuable feed intake and feed efficiency traits.
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