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Pre-Conception Energy Balance and Secondary Sex Ratio—Partial Support for the Trivers-Willard Hypothesis in Dairy Cows

Journal of Dairy Science
American Dairy Science Association
DOI: 10.3168/jds.s0022-0302(06)72282-2
  • Nutrition
  • Feeding
  • And Calves
  • Biology
  • Mathematics
  • Social Sciences


Abstract According to the Trivers-Willard hypothesis, maternal condition at or around conception affects the secondary sex ratio in mammals. However, there are little or no data available on indicators of maternal condition in dairy cows on the sex of the resultant offspring. A total of 76,607 body condition score (BCS; scale of 1 to 5) records and 76,611 body weight (BW) records from 3,209 lactations across 1,172 cows were extracted from a research database collated from one research herd between 1986 and 2004, inclusive. Exclusion of multiple births and cows with no information before calving (e.g., nulliparous animals) resulted in 2,029 records with BCS and BW observations from the previous calving, and 2,002 and 1,872 lactations with BCS and BW observations at conception and midgestation, respectively. Change in BCS and BW between calving and conception and between conception and midgestation was calculated per lactation. Generalized estimating equations were used to model the logit of the probability of a male calf, in which cow was included as a repeated effect with a first-order autoregressive correlation structure assumed among records within cow. Of the BCS variables investigated, there was a linear relationship between the logit of the probability of a male calf and BCS change between calving and conception, the rate of BCS change over this period (BCS divided by days in milk), and BCS at the calving event immediately before conception. The birth of a bull calf was 1.85 times more likely in cows that lost no BCS from calving to conception compared with cows that lost one BCS unit from calving to conception. This increase in odds was equivalent to a 14% unit increase in the probability of a male calf (from 54 to 68%). The amount of BW lost between calving and conception and the rate of loss affected the sex of the resultant offspring. Less BW loss or greater BW gain between calving and conception was associated with greater likelihood of a male calf. Results suggested a positive effect of pre-conception BCS and BW change on secondary sex ratio, agreeing with the Trivers-Willard hypothesis that females in good physiological condition are more likely to produce male offspring.

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