Despite the economic importance of beef cattle production in Brazil, female reproductive performance, which is strongly associated with production efficiency, is not included in the selection index of most breeding programmes due to low heritability and difficulty in measure. The body condition score (BCS) could be used as an indicator of these traits. However, so far little is known about the feasibility of using BCS as a selection tool for reproductive performance in beef cattle. In this study, we investigated the sources of variation in the BCS of Nellore beef cows, quantified its association with reproductive and maternal traits and estimated its heritability. BCS was analysed using a logistic model that included the following effects: contemporary group at weaning, cow weight and hip height, calving order, reconception together with the weight and scores of conformation and early finishing assigned to calves at weaning. In the genetic analysis, variance components of BCS were estimated through Bayesian inference by fitting an animal model that also included the aforementioned effects. The results showed that BCS was significantly associated with all of the reproductive and maternal variables analysed. The estimated posterior mean of heritability of BCS was 0.24 (highest posterior density interval at 95%: 0.093 to 0.385), indicating an involvement of additive gene action in its determination. The present findings show that BCS can be used as a selection criterion for Nellore females.
Keywords: Nellore cattle; heritability; ordinal logistic regression; score trait; selection criterion.