Genetic and environmental factors influencing mortality up to weaning of Bruna dels Pirineus beef calves in mountain areas. A survival analysis

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Abstract

Survival analysis techniques were used to analyze survival up to weaning of beef calves in the Pyrenean mountains areas of Catalonia, Spain. The Kaplan-Meier curve showed that the survival experience was not constant throughout the lactation period, as the mortality rate was more pronounced during the first month of life. The proportional hazards model analysis showed that several factors influenced the instantaneous mortality rate, with the herd-year effect having the strongest influence. Calves born in the first part of the breeding season, from September to February, had the lowest mortality risk (P < 0.001), showing that mortality risk increases as births accumulate. Calves from cows younger than 1,300 d of productive life had a higher risk of mortality (P < 0.05). Unassisted calvings presented the smallest risk of mortality, and mortality risk increased up to five times as birth became more difficult (P < 0.001). This risk also tended to increase slightly when calf birth weight was small (P < 0.10); for bigger calves, no increase of risk was detected, probably because calving difficulty was included in the model. These results suggest the need for improving the environment in the second part of the breeding period and paying more attention to births from younger cows. The survival curve fitted a parametric piecewise exponential function very well, with cut points at 16 and 32 d. The lower risk corresponded to the period of 33 to 180 d, the risk for the periods 17 to 32 d and 1 to 16 d being multiplied by 7 and 26, respectively. Confirming the robustness of the Cox model, the relative risks estimated for the different factors under this piecewise exponential model or a Weibull time-dependent model were similar to those reported above, as well as to those estimated under a frailty model, including the sire as a random effect. The modal estimates of sire variance under different baseline functions were close to 0.3, although the standard errors were very large. At weaning, the heritability estimate in the binary scale reached a value of only 0.037 because the survival at weaning was very high (96.9%) in this population. Nevertheless, in populations with a higher mortality, the inclusion of survival to weaning in the breeding objective might be justified. Overall, these results show that survival analysis is a powerful tool to analyze the mortality curve until weaning of beef calves. ©2005 American Society of Animal Science. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)543-551
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Volume83
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2005

Keywords

  • Beef Cattle
  • Heritability
  • Survival Analysis
  • Survival to Weaning

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