Correlations of feed intake predicted with milk infrared spectra and breeding values in the Dutch Holstein population

Ouweltjes, Wijbrand; Veerkamp, Roel; Burgsteden, Gerbrand van; Linde, René van der; Jong, Gerben de; Knegsel, Ariette van; Haas, Yvette de


Feed is a major cost in dairy production, and substantial genetic variation in feed efficiency exists between cows. Therefore, breeders aim to improve feed efficiency of dairy cattle. However, phenotypic data on individual feed intake on commercial farms is scarce, and accurate measurements are very costly. Several studies have shown that information from Fourier-transformed infrared spectra of milk samples (milk infrared, milk IR) can be used to predict phenotypes such as energy balance and energy intake, but this is usually based on small data sets obtained under experimental circumstances. The added value of information from milk IR spectra for estimation of breeding values is unknown. The objectives of this study were (1) to develop prediction equations for dry matter intake (DMI) and residual DMI (rDMI) from milk IR spectra; (2) to apply these for a data set of milk IR spectra from commercial Dutch dairy farms; (3) to estimate genetic parameters for these traits; and (4) to estimate correlations between these predictions and other traits in the breeding goal. We used data from feeding trials where individual feed intake was recorded daily and for which milk IR spectra were determined weekly to develop prediction equations for DMI and rDMI with partial least squares regression. This data set contained over 7,600 weekly averaged DMI records linked with milk IR spectra from 271 cows. The equations were applied for a data set with test day information from 676 Dutch dairy herds with 621,567 records of 78,488 cows. Both milk IR-predicted DMI and rDMI were analyzed with an animal model to obtain genetic parameters and sire effect estimates that could be correlated with breeding values. A partial least squares regression model with 10 components from the milk IR spectra explained around 25% of DMI variation and less than 10% of rDMI variation in the validation set. Nearly all variation in the milk IR spectra was captured by 7 components; additional components contributed marginally to the spectral variation but decreased prediction errors for both traits. Accuracies of predictions of DMI and rDMI from milk IR spectra for a large feeding experiment were 0.47 and 0.26 on average, respectively, with small differences between ration treatments (ranging from 0.43 to 0.55 and from 0.21 to 0.34, respectively) and among lactation stages (ranging from 0.24 to 0.59 and from 0.13 to 0.36, respectively), with the highest prediction accuracies in early lactation. The estimated heritabilities for predicted DMI and rDMI were 0.3 and 0.4, respectively, which suggests genetic potential for both predicted traits. The correlations of sire estimates for milk IR-predicted DMI with official Dutch breeding values were strongest with milk production (0.33), longevity (0.26), and fertility (−0.27), indicating that cows that eat more produce more, live longer, and have poorer fertility. The correlations of sire estimates for predicted DMI and rDMI with the official breeding values for DMI were low (0.14 and 0.03, respectively). This implies that the added value of including milk IR-predicted DMI information in the estimation procedure of breeding values for DMI would be considered insufficient for practical application.