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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access February 27, 2023

Correlation between descriptive and group type traits in the system of cow’s linear classification of Ukrainian Brown dairy breed

  • Leontiі Khmelnychyiі EMAIL logo , Serhii Khmelnychyiі and Yevgeniya Samokhina
From the journal Open Agriculture


The aim of this study was to evaluate the phenotypic relationships between descriptive and group linear-type traits and the final score of first-born cows of the Ukrainian Brown dairy breed. The data from the linear estimation were collected on the population of 707 cows in six herds in the Sumy region of Ukraine from 2000 to 2018. It was found that the level of correlations between descriptive and group traits of the conformation, which characterize the dairy strength, frame, feet/legs, and udder, differed in significant variability by direction, strength, and reliability. The level of positive phenotypic correlations of descriptive traits with all group traits of the conformation type and the final score was height (0.19–0.34 and 0.34), chest width (0.06–0.29 and 0.17), body depth (0.28–0.53 and 0.48), angularity (0.35–0.77 and 0.62), rump width (0.29–0.36 and 0.46), rear legs posture (0.33–0.37 and 0.48), front udder attachment (0.23–0.39 and 0.41), height of rear udder attachment (0.17–0.27 and 0.29), and central ligament (r = 0.16–0.39 and 0.36). The body condition score was related to group traits but in a negative value, with correlation coefficients ranging from −0.07 (legs) to −0.47 (dairy strength). The level of correlation between descriptive traits and the final score indicated that the selection based on the results of good development of these traits will contribute to the overall progress of cows in the direction of the desired dairy type.

1 Introduction

In defining standards and establishing specific guidelines for conducting linear classification of dairy cattle by conformation type, the International Committee on Animal Registration (ICAR, 2018) [1] proposed requirements and criteria for group and descriptive traits of body structure. These linear-type traits must be taken into account if they provide the necessary selection information, have a significant effect on productive traits, or have a limiting effect on productive longevity. Therefore, each of the assessed traits included in the linear classification system must have a direct or indirect economic value comparable to the aims of cattle breeding in one or another breed. In this case, each linear-type trait should depict the unique cow’s body part, which was not described in combination with other linear-type traits. The method of linear classification included groups of linear-type traits that relate to one specific area and individual (descriptive) traits.

According to the ICAR recommendation [1], the main group traits belong to the frame, including the rump, dairy strength, mammary system, and feet/legs. Descriptive traits include 18 body parts of the body structure that characterize the condition of the body’s development (stature, chest width, body depth, angularity, rump angle, and rump width), legs (rear legs set, rear legs [rear view], and foot angle), and udder (fore udder attachment, rear udder height, central ligament, udder depth, front teats position, rear teats position, and teats length). Linear classification method has been conducted for a long period of time in many studies on population-genetic parameters of linear-type traits, including their relationship with milk productivity [2,3,4,5,6], productive longevity [6,7,8,9], health traits [10,11], and reproduction of cows [7,12,13].

The relationship between linear-type traits of cows of different breeds is being studied extensively around the world [14,15,16,17,18,19], but no research has been conducted on the domestic population of Ukraine dairy cattle.

Bibliographic reports, in the aspect of research on the relationship between linear-type traits of the conformation type in countries with developed dairy farming, were aimed at determining the degree of their connection in the overall harmony of body structure. Several authors [15,16,17] believe that integration of interconnected linear type traits selected individually from the total number, and limited in number group, allowed to use them effectively in the system of index selection of cows by type and not only [20]. For example, indicators of the descriptive trait of cow’s locomotion in Brown dairy cattle in the United States had a high genetic correlation with the final score (r = 0.78), an assessment of rear leg posture (rear view, r = 0.74), the udder width (rear view, r = 0.52), and an estimate of the foot angle (r = 0.51). From this, the authors concluded that the trait characterized by locomotion can provide a more accurate assessment of the structural reliability required to ensure longevity than a combination of legs and feet [21].

High genetic correlations between linear-type traits showed that breeding programs can be successful even with a decrease in their number or at least a minimum loss of information [1,19,20].

Thus, the detection of a close relationship between descriptive traits of linear classification and group traits of conformation can also be used as indicators for the indirect selection of cows by the individual descriptive traits or combined into an integrated group. In the future, they will be used in index selection, which will contribute to the reliability of improving the conformation type of cows. In this regard, we investigated the relationship between variability of descriptive type traits with group traits in first-born Ukrainian Brown dairy cows.

2 Materials and methods

The first-born cows of the Ukrainian Brown dairy breed (n = 707) were studied in the leading controlled herds in the Sumy region of Ukraine. Data for linear-type trait estimation were collected from 2000 to 2018. To assess the conformation of cows, linear-type traits were used, which serve as the basis for all modern-type classification systems and are the foundation for all dairy cow description systems [1]. Two grading systems have been considered: 100-score and 9-score. The 100-score system took into account four sets of linear-type traits that characterize dairy strength, frame, feet/legs, and udder. Each conformation complex was estimated independently and had its own weighting factor in the final score of the animal: dairy strength (DS), 15%; frame (F), 20%; feet/legs (FL), 25%; and udder (U), 40%. The final score of type (FS) was determined by the following formula:

(1) FS = ( DS × 0.15 ) + ( F × 0.20 ) + ( FL × 0.25 ) + ( U × 0.40 )

On a 9-score scale, 18 linear descriptive-type traits were assessed. Table 1 presents a list of individual linear-type traits, their abbreviations, minimum and maximum values in the respective absolute units, and the descriptive nature of individual traits (rump angle, rear legs [rear view], locomotion, and body condition score).

Table 1

Description of the linear-type traits using 9-score system

Standard traits Abbreviations Score
Min Max
1 9
Stature STA Short <128 cm Tall >150 cm
Chest width CW Narrow <17 cm Wide >32 cm
Body depth BD Shallow body <61 cm Deep body >81 cm
Angularity ANG Lacks angularity close ribs coarse bone Very angular open ribbed flat bone
Rump angle RA High pin bones Sloped
Rump width RW Narrow <16 cm Wide >24 cm
Rear legs set RLS Straight >158° Sickled <136°
Rear legs rear view RLSV Extreme toe-out Parallel feet
Foot angle FA Very low angle <25° Very steep >61°
Fore udder attachment FUA Weak and loose <90° Extremely strong and tight >161°
Rear udder height RUH Very low <26 cm High >11 cm
Central ligament CL Convex to flat floor (flat) 0 Deep/strong definition >6.5 cm
Udder depth UD Udder floor below the hock <−1 to 2 cm Udder is well above the hock >20 cm
Front teat position FTP Outside of quarter >19 cm Inside <4 cm
Rear teat position RTP Outside >15 cm Crossing <0 cm
Teat length TL Short <1 cm Long >9 cm
Locomotion LOCO Severe abduction/Short stride No abduction/Long stride
Body condition score BCS All profiles are extremely concave All profiles are extremely rounded

Cows were evaluated between 2 and 4 months during the first lactation. Assessment of linear descriptive traits of the udder was performed not earlier than 1 h before milking. The average expression of the trait was estimated at 5-score, and the biological deviations toward the minimum development decreased to 1-score, and conversely, if the trait development approached the maximum manifestation, it increased to 9-score. The maximum score for first-born cows was no more than 89 for each individual set of traits.

Some linear-type traits, such as angularity, rump angle, rear leg set, locomotion, and body condition score, were evaluated subjectively, where classifiers consider a number of aspects of appearance when assigning scores to a cow. Other types of traits were assessed more objectively, as they were defined as measurement indicators. Only classifiers with more than 30 evaluated animals were taken into account in the experiment.

The main statistics of linear-type traits (calculated on a 9-score scale) in cows included the average value (x), standard error of linear-type traits (SE), mean standard deviation (SD), coefficient of variation (Cv, %), minimum (Min) and maximum (Max) deviations of economic and linear-type traits, and correlation coefficient (r) between descriptive and group linear-type traits of cows. The materials were calculated using the package of statistical programs “STATISTICA-8.”

The linear phenotypic correlation coefficient was determined by the following Pearson formula:

(2) r xy = ( x i x ̅ ) × ( y i y ̅ ) ( x i x ̅ ) 2 × ( y i y ̅ ) 2 ,

where: x ί is the value for variable X, y i is the value for variable Y, x ̅ is the average for X, and y ̅ is the average for Y.

The reliability of the obtained data was assessed by calculating the errors of statistical values (SE) and Student’s reliability criteria (td) for correlation analysis. The level of reliability was determined by comparisons with standard indicators of the criteria. The results were considered statistically significant for the first (*P < 0.05), second (**P < 0.01), and third (***P < 0.001) thresholds of reliability.

  1. Ethical approval: The research related to animal use has complied with all the relevant national regulations and institutional policies for the care and use of animals.

3 Results and discussion

The Ukrainian Brown dairy breed was created by the interbreed crossing method of local Lebedyn cattle with Brown Swiss breeds of German, American, and Austrian selection. The purpose of creating the Ukrainian Brown dairy breed was to transform Lebedyn cattle of mixed type into a specialized dairy breed. The newly created breed should be characterized by high milk productivity and a strong conformation type, be well adapted to local feeding conditions, and be well appropriate to modern technological conditions of keeping.

Table 2 shows the average value indicators and variability of linear-type traits of first-born cows of the Ukrainian Brown dairy breed. According to the international scale, the average value of group traits and the final score of first-born cows corresponded to the level “Good plus,” with insignificant variability as measured by SD and Cv. Estimates of descriptive linear traits were above the average value in the breed, and they differed significantly in (Cv 15.8–27.2%).

Table 2

The average value and variability of linear-type traits of first-born cows of the Ukrainian Brown dairy breed

Linear-type traits x ± SE SD Cv (%) Min Max
Dairy strength 82.7 ± 0.22 2.1 2.54 77 88
Frame including rump 83.5 ± 0.19 1.8 2.16 78 87
Legs/Feet 82.3 ± 0.20 1.7 2.07 79 88
Mammary system 82.8 ± 0.12 2.3 2.78 76 87
Final score 83.2 ± 0.13 1.6 1.92 79 86
Stature (height at the sacrum), cm 145.5 ± 0.09 2.88 1.98 137 153
Stature 6.2 ± 0.028 1.31 21.1 1 9
Chest width 7.6 ± 0.033 1.35 17.8 1 9
Body depth 7.8 ± 0.042 1.63 20.9 1 9
Angularity 6.3 ± 0.038 1.55 24.6 2 9
Rump angle 5.2 ± 0.018 0.82 15.8 2 8
Rump width 5.9 ± 0.021 1.01 17.1 1 9
Rear legs set 5.3 ± 0.023 1.22 23.0 1 9
Rear legs rear view 6.5 ± 0.034 1.46 22.5 1 9
Foot angle 6.1 ± 0.027 1,22 20.0 1 9
Fore udder attachment 6.6 ± 0.039 1.47 22.3 2 9
Rear udder height 5.3 ± 0.037 1.44 27.2 1 9
Central ligament 6.1 ± 0.041 1.57 25.7 1 9
Udder depth 6.5 ± 0.039 1.48 22.8 1 9
Front teats position 5,3 ± 0.037 1,39 26.2 2 8
Rear teats position 5.1 ± 0,035 1.34 26.3 2 9
Teats length 5.6 ± 0.034 1.29 23.0 3 9
Locomotion 6.9 ± 0.040 1.61 23.3 1 9
Body condition score 6.6 ± 0.033 1.27 19.2 2 9

Based on the results of research presented in Table 3, the level of relative variability indicators of the conformation descriptive traits with group, which characterize dairy strength, frame, feet/legs, and udder, differed significantly in direction, strength, and reliability.

Table 3

The relationship level between scores of descriptive and group traits of cow’s linear classification of the Ukrainian Brown dairy breed

Traits characterized by Final score
Descriptive trait of the conformation Dairy strength Frame Legs Udder
Height 0.31*** 0.32*** 0.19** 0.34*** 0.34***
Chest width 0.08** 0.29 0.06 0.08 0.17**
Body depth 0.38*** 0.53*** 0.28*** 0.31*** 0.48***
Angularity 0.77*** 0.46*** 0.35*** 0.44*** 0.62**
Rump position −0.03 −0.05 −0.02 −0.04 −0.06
Rump width 0.36*** 0.35*** 0.29*** 0.35*** 0.46***
Pelvic limbs angle −0.06 −0.06 −0.07 −0.08 −0.02
Rear legs set 0.37*** 0.35*** 0.33*** 0.37*** 0.48***
Foot angle −0.02 0.03 0.37*** 0.08 0.19**
Udder attachment Front 0.35*** 0.23*** 0.35*** 0.39*** 0.41***
Rear 0.22*** 0.21*** 0.17** 0.27*** 0.29***
Central ligament 0.28*** 0.32*** 0.16* 0.39*** 0.36***
Udder depth 0.02 0.07 0.07 −0.07 0.08
Teat position Front −0.08 −0.08 −0.09 −0.07 −0.10
Rear 0.01 −0.09 0.06 −0.09 −0.08
Teat length −0.06 −0.05 −0.14* −0.07 −0.12*
Locomotion 0.24*** 0.24*** 0.18** 0.18** 0.26***
Body condition score −0.47*** −0.29*** −0.07 −0.32*** −0.35***

Reliable at *P < 0.05; **P < 0.01; ***P < 0.001.

Height which is an integrated indicator of the overall development of the animal’s body, determined in the absolute value of the measurement in the rump, reliably correlated with all group traits of the conformation type (r = 0.19–0.34) and the final score (r = 0.34) first-born cows of the Ukrainian Brown dairy breed. Another group of authors, in the study of Holstein cattle, reported the existence of positive genetic correlations with different variability: height with a final score (r = 0.21, [19]; r = 0.13, [22]; and r = 0.12, [15]) and dairy strength (r = 0.52, [23] and r = 0.08, [24]). In Italian cows of the Brown Swiss breed, the correlation between height and the final score was low (r = 0.07) [25].

Chest width is a linear indicator of the animal’s strength, reliably correlated with a set of cow’s body parts that characterize the animal’s frame development (r = 0.29) and the final score (r = 0.17). A similar moderate correlation of the chest width with the final score was also reported in other studies (r = 0.17) [19]. According to the data [26], chest width was closely correlated with dairy type in the Holstein breed (r = 0.55). Other studies have found that the chest width of Brown Swiss cows in Italy was closely correlated with the final score (r = 0.55) [25], while in cows of Brown Swiss breed in Brazil there was no such correlation (r = 0.09) [27].

Quite an important linear-type trait is body depth, an appropriate measure of digestive tract development and therefore closely or moderately correlated with milk productivity [20,28,29]. It also differed, according to the data of our research, by having a close correlation with all group traits of the evaluation of cows by type. The high correlation level of this trait with a set of body parts characterized by the frame (r = 0.53) was natural. Therefore, the degree of positive correlations with complexes of dairy strength traits (r = 0.38), udder (r = 0.31), and overall score (r = 0.48) testified to the possibility of including it in the selection index, or in a group of descriptive traits, according to which it will be possible to conduct an effective indirect selection of cows by dairy strength.

The next linear trait–angularity, similar to the previous one, with a high degree of reliability that is correlated with all group traits. Good development of this trait was characteristic of animals with a pronounced dairy strength, so the highest coefficient was obtained in its relationship with traits that characterize the dairy strength (r = 0.77). The high correlation coefficient of angularity with group traits of the body (r = 0.46), legs (r = 0.35), mammary system (r = 0.44), and the final score (r = 0.62) testified to the significant value of this body part in the descriptive version of the cow’s linear estimation. Guler et al. [19] reported that angularity positively correlated with all udder traits (r = 0.07–0.30) and the final score (r = 0.42), except for udder depth (r = −0.08) and front teats position (r = −0.04). Similar results were reported by [22] with genetic correlation coefficients for all udder traits (r = 0.40–0.62), except for front parts attachment (r = 0.08), udder depth (r = −0.09), and teats length (r = −0.15). Pryce et al. [14] and others established a positive relationship, from moderate to close, between angularity and the front udder attachment (r = 0.20), height (r = 0.44) and width of the rear udder part (r = 0.54), central ligament (r = 0.17), and the final score (r = 0.62).

The condition of the rump was important in assessing the conformation of dairy cattle. In the system of linear classification, the rump position was determined by the relative placement of the ischial humps to the hook bones. A slight inclination of the rump between the extreme points of the conditionally drawn line from the hook bones to the ischial humps at the level of 3–4 cm will be the desired condition with an assessment of 5-score. Deviation toward assessment of the rump position to 1-score (elevated) or 9-score (sloped) were body part shortcomings, so the lack of correlation with both traits of milk productivity and group linear traits will also be a desirable selection situation. This conclusion was confirmed by studies [19] with coefficients of genetic correlations between the rump angle and all udder traits (r = −0.01… −0.07) and the final score (r = −0.09). Pryce et al. [14] obtained similar data on the relationship between the rump angle with all udder traits (r = −0.17… 0.07) and the final score (r = −0.13).

Rump width is an important conformation trait in a linear scoring system for dairy cattle, as a wide rump provides a large udder attachment area and pelvic cavity capacity, widening the birth canal for easy calving. Rump width will positively correlate with udder measurements and cows’ milk yield [29,30]; therefore, a high level of relationship with group traits that affect cow’s milk productivity, dairy strength (r = 0.36), and udder (r = 0.35) had an objective justification. The rump width correlated closely with the final score of type (r = 0.46). High rates of the relationship between rump width and the final score were confirmed by studies [14], according to which the genetic correlation was 0.82 and the phenotypic was 0.58.

Insignificant negative correlations between the pelvic limbs angle and group traits were explained by the desirable body part development with the assessment of 5-score. A decrease in hock joint angle to 1-score (elephantism) or an increase to 9-score (sickled) were the body part's shortcomings. We obtained correlation coefficients between the pelvic limbs angle and group traits, and the final score agreed with studies [19], according to which the phenotypic and genotypic correlations had a negative value and amounted to −0.13 and −0.11 [14] with correlations of −0.37 and −0.12, respectively.

Body parts of the conformation, characterizing the condition and limb development, occupy an important place in the linear classification system, since the productive longevity of cows in modern conditions of industrial technology will significantly depend on their strength. Cows with straight, parallel leg posture will receive the best score. Convergence of limbs at the hock joints, i.e., extreme toe-out and curvature, only significantly reduces it. Sufficiently high and highly reliable correlation coefficients between scores for the pelvic limbs posture and group traits convincingly confirmed the importance of limb condition in the overall harmony of the animal’s conformation.

The foot angle determined the durability of limbs and largely depended on the hoof horn strength, which was less erased in conditions of hard flooring. The method of linear classification defined that the average expression of the foot angle posture is equal to 45° with an assessment of 5-score. The steeper the angle, the higher the rear wall of the hoof, and the better the score for body part development. According to the results of correlation analysis, the foot angle was only positively and highly reliably associated with the assessment of group traits characterizing the legs condition (r = 0.37) and the final score (r = 0.19).

The characterization of the cow’s mammary system is the most important element of linear estimation. In the overall classification of dairy cows by four groups of conformation traits, with their independent assessment of a 100-score system, the largest share (40%) is occupied by a set of traits that characterize the udder. Seven morphological udder traits were assessed by the descriptive method. The first was the front udder attachment, perhaps the most important, as evidenced by the highest correlation coefficients between its assessment and all group traits of cows’ conformation type. The selection value of the front udder attachment is closely related to its shape, size, and proportional development and supporting function, not allowing the udder to sag with age, and is closely correlated with milk yield [6,31]. The close correlation between the front udder attachment and the final score (r = 0.41) is consistent with studies [14,19], according to which the genotypic and phenotypic correlations between these traits were 0.42 and 0.46 and 0.65 and 0.47, respectively.

The height of the udder attachment at the rear also served the function of keeping the udder at the appropriate height. Correlated with almost the same coefficients of complex traits of the conformation type and the final score of cows in the experimental herd, which is consistent with the results of studies [13] and [23], by which genotypic and phenotypic correlations between these traits were 0.40 and 0.43, and 0.61 and 0.50, respectively.

The central ligament is also one of the traits whose strength did not allow the udder to sag with age. Compared to the previous udder traits, the central ligament was also associated with all group traits of type, as evidenced by moderately positive correlation coefficients. The existence of positive correlations between the central ligament and the final score was confirmed by studies [14,19], according to which the genotypic and phenotypic correlations between these traits were 0.40 and 0.41 and 0.12 and 0.27, respectively.

The trait of the animal’s locomotion is a kind of reflection of body parts score that characterizes the rear legs condition of cows, the angle of pelvic limbs and feet, and their posture. Therefore, in addition to the above leg traits, the trait of locomotion was also in a positive relationship with group traits that characterize dairy strength (r = 0.24), frame (r = 0.24), legs (r = 0.18), udder (r = 0.18), and the final score (r = 0.26).

The body condition score was related to group traits, but in a negative sense, with correlation coefficients ranging from −0.07 (legs) to −0.47 (dairy strength). In the study of the relationship of body condition with other descriptive traits in foreign countries, correlations were often negative., e.g.: genetic correlations between body condition and angularity (r = −0.61) [18], (r = −0.64) [32]; body condition and rump (r = −0.39), dairy strength (r = −0.35), udder quality (r = −0.42), rear teats position (r = −0.33) [33]. Therefore, score of the body condition can be proposed as a useful trait for the indirect selection aimed at improving the conformation type of animals.

Established positive levels of phenotypic correlations between individual descriptive traits of the conformation of the first-born cows of the Ukrainian Brown dairy cattle, especially between anatomically and functionally related cows, testified about their harmonious development in the desired direction of dairy strength.

4 Conclusions

Studies of the correlation variability of descriptive traits with group ones proved that the improvement of the Ukrainian Brown dairy breed by the conformation type should be controlled through a system of linear classification, including monitoring the correlative variability between descriptive and group traits. The level of correlations between descriptive traits and the final score indicated that selection based on the results of good development of such body parts as height, body depth, angularity, rump width, pelvic limbs posture, front and rear udder attachment, central ligament, locomotion, and body condition will contribute to the desired overall development of cows in the direction of dairy strength.

  1. Funding information: The authors state that no funding is involved.

  2. Conflict of interest: The authors state that there is no conflict of interest.

  3. Data availability statement: The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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Received: 2022-05-09
Revised: 2023-01-10
Accepted: 2023-02-08
Published Online: 2023-02-27

© 2023 the author(s), published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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