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Resilience: reference measures based on longer-term consequences are needed to unlock the potential of precision livestock farming technologies for quantifying this trait

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

Climate change, with its increasing frequency of environmental disturbances puts pressures on the livestock sector. To deal with these pressures, more complex traits such as resilience must be considered in our management strategies and in our breeding programs. Resilient animals respond well to environmental challenges, and have a decreased probability of needing assistance to overcome them. This paper discusses the need for operational measures of resilience that can be deployed at large scale across different farm types and livestock species. Such measures are needed to provide more precise phenotypes of resilience for use in farm management, but also for use in animal breeding. Any measure of response and recovery reflects both the animals resilience and the perceived size of the environmental disturbance, which can vary over time, depending on multiple animal and farm-related contexts. Therefore, and because universal definitions of resilience are too broad to be operational, we argue that resilience should be seen as a latent construct that cannot be directly measured and selected for. This leads to the following two points: (1) any postulated operational measure of resilience to a disturbance should be constructed from a sufficient number of indicators that each individually capture different facets of the resilience, such that when combined they better reflect the full resilience response; and (2) any postulated operational measure of resilience will have to be validated against reference measures that are the accumulated consequences of good resilience (e.g. productive lifespan or ability to re-calve). In a dairy cow case study, a practical resilience definition for dairy cattle was proposed and tested based on a scoring system containing several categories. In general terms and within a given parity, a cow receives plus points for each calving, and for a shorter calving interval, fewer inseminations and a higher milk production compared to her herd peers. She will receive minus points in case the number of inseminations increases, for each curative treatment day, and if her milk production is lower compared to her herd peers. By using readily available farm data, we were able to assess a practical lifetime resilience score, based on which cows can then be ranked within the herd. Cows that reach a next parity were shown to have a higher rank than cows that are culled before the next parity. To examine the usefulness of such a score, this resilience ranking was linked to two precision livestock technology-derived measures, related to milk yield deviations and accelerometer-derived deviations. Higher resilience ranking cows had fewer drops in milk yield and a more stable activity pattern during the lactation. This case study, taking the operational approach to quantifying and defining resilience, shows the promise of a data-driven approach for identifying resilience measures when applied within a biologically logical framework.
Journal: Peer Community Journal
ISSN: 2804-3871
Volume: 2
Publication year:2022