Accounting for unknown foster dams in the genetic evaluation of embryo transfer progeny

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Animals born by embryo transfer (ET) are usually not included in the genetic evaluation of beef cattle for preweaning growth if the recipient dam is unknown. This is primarily to avoid potential bias in the estimation of the unknown age of dam. We present a method that allows including records of calves with unknown age of dam. Assumptions are as follows: (i) foster cows belong to the same breed being evaluated, (ii) there is no correlation between the breeding value (BV) of the calf and the maternal BV of the recipient cow, and (iii) cows of all ages are used as recipients. We examine the issue of bias for the fixed level of unknown age of dam (AOD) and propose an estimator of the effect based on classical measurement error theory (MEM) and a Bayesian approach. Using stochastic simulation under random mating or selection, the MEM estimating equations were compared with BLUP in two situations as follows: (i) full information (FI); (ii) missing AOD information on some dams. Predictions of breeding value (PBV) from the FI situation had the smallest empirical average bias followed by PBV obtained without taking measurement error into account. In turn, MEM displayed the highest bias, although the differences were small. On the other hand, MEM showed the smallest MSEP, for either random mating or selection, followed by FI, whereas ignoring measurement error produced the largest MSEP. As a consequence from the smallest MSEP with a relatively small bias, empirical accuracies of PBV were larger for MEM than those for full information, which in turn showed larger accuracies than the situation ignoring measurement error. It is concluded that MEM equations are a useful alternative for analysing weaning weight data when recipient cows are unknown, as it mitigates the effects of bias in AOD by decreasing MSEP.

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