Correlations of milk and serum element concentrations with production and management traits in dairy cows

Scott J. Denholm* (Corresponding Author), Tom N. McNeilly, Shabina Bashir, M. C. Mitchel, Eileen Wall, Alan Sneddon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study investigated the potential consequences, positive or negative, that selection for favorable production-related traits may have on concentrations of vitamin B12 and key chemical elements in dairy cow milk and serum and the possible impact on milk healthiness, and associated benefits, for the dairy product consumer. Milk and serum samples (950 and 755, respectively) were
collected from Holstein-Friesian dairy cows (n=479) on 19 occasions over a 59-month period, generating, 258 individual records, and analyzed for concentrations of key trace and quantity elements, heavy metals, and milk vitamin B12. These data were then matched to economically important production data (milk, fat, and protein yield), and management data (dry matter intake, liveweight, and body condition score). Multivariate animal models, including full pedigree information, were used to analyze data and investigate relationships between traits of interest. Results highlighted negative genetic correlations between many quantity and trace elements in both milk and serum with production and management traits. Milk yield was strongly negatively correlated with the milk quantity elements Mg and Ca (ra = -0.58, -0.63, respectively) as well as the trace elements Mn, Fe, Ni, Cu, Zn, and Mo (ra = -0.32, -0.58, -0.52, -0.40, -0.34, and -0.96, respectively); and in serum,
Mg, Ca, Co, Fe, and Zn (ra = -0.50, -0.36, -0.68, -0.54, and -0.90, respectively). Strong genetic correlations were noted between DMI with V (ra = 0.97), Fe (ra = -0.69), Ni (ra = -0.81), and Zn (ra= -0.75), and in serum, strong negative genetic correlations were observed between DMI with Ca and Se (ra = -0.95, and -0.88, respectively). Body condition score was negatively correlated with serum P, Cu, Se, and Pb (ra = -0.45, -0.35, -0.51, and -0.64, respectively), and positively correlated with Mn, Fe, and Zn (ra = 0.40, 0.71, and 0.55, respectively). Our results suggest that breeding strategies aimed at improving economically important production-related traits would most likely result in a negative impact on levels of beneficial nutrients within milk for human consumption (such as Mg, Ca, Fe, Zn, Se).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9726-9737
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number12
Early online date4 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • micronutrient
  • heavy metal
  • dairy cow
  • production
  • management data


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