a1 AgResearch, Ruakura Research Centre, Private Bag 3123, Hamilton, New Zealand
Following the discovery of low serum copper (Cu) concentrations in 9-month-old beef calves at pasture in autumn (50% of animals had values <7·5 μmol/l), genetic variation in serum Cu concentration was studied in an experimental Angus herd in New Zealand, monitoring at intervals from about 7 to 17 months of age. The study was initiated in autumn when animals were supplemented with zinc (Zn) salts (to protect against liver injury from toxin-producing facial eczema spores on the pasture), and later in the production year after Cu supplementation but without Zn supplementation. Heritabilities of Cu concentration were estimated in 837 calves from six calf crops, the progeny of 47 sires, using restricted maximum likelihood procedures with an animal model. Correlations between Cu concentration and Zn concentration were also estimated, along with correlations between Cu concentration and 6-month, 9-month and yearling live weights. The heritability estimate for Cu concentration at all times outside the autumn Zn supplementation period was 0·28±0·08 (between-animal repeatability, 0·30±0·05), and the heritability estimates for autumn Cu concentration and Zn concentration were 0·35±0·11 and 0·26±0·13, respectively. The genetic and environmental correlations between autumn Cu concentration and Zn concentration were ?0·29±0·31 and 0·15±0·11, respectively, suggesting antagonistic effects between Zn and Cu only at the genetic level, with a net (phenotypic) correlation of 0·02±0·06. Genetic correlations between Cu concentration (outside the autumn season) and 6-month, 9-month and yearling weights ranged from 0·15±0·15 to 0·17±0·16. It was concluded that serum Cu and Zn concentrations in calves were heritable traits under the grazing conditions encountered, and that index selection to increase live weights and Cu concentrations could be applied if desired.
(Received October 20 2005)
(Accepted July 16 2006)