Lameness is one of the most important welfare and economic problems in modern dairy herds. In addition to environmental factors, lameness is affected by genetics and thus, long-term improvement of lameness can be accomplished through genetic selection. The objective of the study was to estimate the genetic parameters of a validated gait score and specific gait attributes for Holstein cows from a university dairy research herd. Two hundred thirty-three cows were gait scored multiple times over time (n=1,664 records) in different experiments using a 1-to-5 numerical rating system (NRS). One hundred seventy-two cows (n=657 records) also had 6 gait attributes scored using a 100-unit continuous visual analog scale (back arch, head bob, tracking up, joint flexion, asymmetric gait, and reluctance to bear weight). Single-trait linear animal models were used to estimate the heritability of NRS and each gait attribute, whereas a multivariate linear animal model was used to estimate genetic correlations between traits. The NRS and the gait attributes deteriorated with parity, and the scores for NRS, back arch, joint flexion, and asymmetry of the steps increased rapidly in early lactation. The heritability estimate (±SE) for NRS was 0.09±0.09. Four of the gait attributes (reluctance to bear weight, head bob, tracking up, and asymmetry of the steps) had higher heritability than NRS, ranging from 0.11±0.13 to 0.42±0.15, whereas back arch showed no genetic variation. However, the small sample of animals resulted in large standard error of the estimates. The genetic correlations between NRS and the gait attributes were >0.70, whereas the genetic correlations among the different gait attributes ranged from 0.14 to 0.92. In conclusion, NRS and most gait attributes showed genetic variation, indicating the opportunity to improve gait through genetic selection. Some specific gait attributes were more heritable than NRS and were genetically correlated with NRS. Further research with a larger population is needed to assess whether specific gait attributes would be suitable candidate traits to consider in genetic evaluations in the future.
Copyright © 2012 American Dairy Science Association. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.