Exploring physiological and genetic variation of digital cushion thickness in Holstein and Jersey cows and bulls

C. R. Stambuk, E. A. Staiger, B. J. Heins, H. J. Huson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The objectives of our study were to expand phenotypic characterization of digital cushion thickness (DCT) to the Jersey breed and include mature bulls and to identify breed-specific quantitative trait loci (QTL) for DCT within the Jersey or Holstein breeds and common QTL across breeds and sexes to better understand biological regulation and guide future use of marker-assisted selection. In a cohort of 698 cows and 85 bulls (Holstein and Jersey) from 8 farms in New York State, data were collected on DCT, body condition score (BCS), withers height, and sacral height. All animals underwent sonographic examination of the digital cushion evaluated at the sole ulcer site for the right front and hind feet. Linear mixed models were conducted on DCT separately for cows and bulls with fixed effects of time point, breed, age, digit, and BCS group. The models included random effects to control for the random subset of animals per farm, repeated measures, and multiple measurements from each animal. The phenotypic results indicated that DCT varied by time point, breed, age, digit, and BCS group for cows and by breed, age, digit, and BCS group for bulls. For the genotypic study, 616 cow DNA samples were genotyped on the Illumina BovineHD 777K BeadChip (Illumina Inc., San Diego, CA), whereas 76 bull DNA samples were genotyped on different platforms ranging from 5K to 150K. Multiple genome-wide association studies were conducted to highlight pertinent phenotyping parameters and genetic markers for genomic selection. Data were separated into 8 data sets based on different combinations of breed and sex. Each data set was assessed for quality of markers and samples before conducting genome-wide association studies for DCT, testing the inheritance models and genetic variation of digit, foot, and average thickness. Ten markers passed the Bonferroni correction threshold and 9 passed false discovery rate from 10 genome-wide association studies using a combination of the covariates breed, sex, genotyping batch plate, age, BCS, withers height, and sacral height. Of the 43 candidate genes, 8 novel biologically plausible genes were identified on Bos taurus autosomes 3, 4, 7, and 9: SFRS18 and LRRFIP1 function in fat deposition, whereas AHR, BZW2, EFNA5, USP45, and VAV3 effect bone growth, and SOSTDC1 is related to epidermal keratinocyte function. The genetic markers associated with DCT in this study were explored for variation between cows and bulls within and across breeds for their potential use in marker-assisted selection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9177-9194
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research project was funded by the US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA/NIFA, Washington, DC) Federal Formula Funds Hatch Project #2015-16-117. The authors thank the farms, hoof trimmers, and Genex (Ithaca, NY), particularly Steve Tibbits and Jim Lilly, for their participation and accommodation during the study. The authors have stated no conflicts of interest.


  • claw horn disruption lesion
  • digital cushion
  • gene
  • lameness
  • marker

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article

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