Selecting for stayability

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In today’s cow-calf production environment with high replacement and development costs for females, the ability of a cow to produce a calf every year and remain in the herd for an extended time becomes increasingly valuable. Researchers in Brazil recently reported on an extended analysis of cow productivity, stayability and growth, based on 30 years of data from 70 locations. Cattle types in the analysis included Brazilian Nelore cattle and composite breeds including influence from Bos indicus and tropically adapted English and Continental Bos taurus breeds.

 The researchers analyzed relationships between traits including post-weaning gain, yearling weight, scrotal circumference, stayability and average annual cow production. They defined “stayability” as calving every year, if given the opportunity to breed, to six years of age. They calculated an index for cow production based on a combination of cow fertility and calf growth.

The researchers found that cow production and stayability were highly genetically correlated, while genetic correlations between post-weaning gain, yearling weight or scrotal circumference with cow production or stayability were all low. Estimates of annual genetic change were positive for all five traits. The authors concluded that simultaneous selection for growth, productivity and stayability is possible.

The research report is published in the Journal of Animal Science. The abstract is available online to anyone and the full article is available to subscribers.

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MT  |  July, 25, 2013 at 09:19 AM

Sir: At six years of age a commercial cow is just starting to break even in terms of development costs for the commercial cattle herd. (see SPA data) Six years is used because this is when seed stock producers roll their herds over. Meaningful economic stayability data for the commercial sector is a cow that has a calf EVERY year until she is 11-13 years of age not half that.

TX  |  July, 25, 2013 at 10:24 AM

How about a cow going to 24years and a calf every year. She's the one that really makes you money. We should be breeding for longevity.

Joe C. Paschal    
South Texas  |  July, 25, 2013 at 10:02 AM

John, if folks are really interested in the article they can email one of the authors for an electronic reprint.

July, 25, 2013 at 11:40 AM

Thats fine on irrigated pasture or flat midwest prairy but in the Western U.S. rocky rough terrain six is pretty good.

July, 25, 2013 at 12:20 PM

Agree with MT. For our area, near where the big rivers converge in the heartland, we select for longevity by using sons and grandsons, daughters and granddaughters of cows that produce a calf every year for ten, twelve years or more. Right now, a son of our current oldest cow, born 1999, is working as a herd sire here. Many of our best replacements are from a son of another cow that was thirteen when we retired her after eleven calves; his sire's dam was thirteen and had a 340 day calving interval. We have used three sons of another top-producing cow that was eleven. We realize that the science says fertility is not highly heritable, but when cattle are selected for fertility and longevity in a particular environment, on grass, under consistently natural conditions, the odds are better that traits amenable to fertility and longevity will enter their DNA. They become a landrace herd in such situations.

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