Macciotta, Nicolò Pietro Paolo and Dimauro, Corrado and Rassu, Salvatore Pier Giacomo and Steri, Roberto and Pulina, Giuseppe (2011) The Mathematical description of lactation curves in dairy cattle. Italian Journal of Animal Science, Vol. 10 (4), p. 213-223. eISSN 1828-051X. Article.
This review gives an overview of the mathematical modelling of lactation curves in dairy cattle. Over the last ninety years, the development of this field of study has followed the main requirements of the dairy cattle industry. Non-linear parametric functions have represented the preferred tools for modelling average curves of homogeneous groups of animals, with the main aim of predicting yields for management purposes. The increased availability of records per individual lactations and the genetic evaluation based on test day records has shifted the interest of modellers towards more flexible and general linear functions, as polynomials or splines. Thus the main interest of modelling is no longer the reconstruction of the general pattern of the phenomenon but the fitting of individual deviations from an average curve. Other specific approaches based on the modelling of the correlation structure of test day records within lactation, such as mixed linear models or principal component analysis, have been used to test the statistical significance of fixed effects in dairy experiments or to create new variables expressing main lactation curve traits. The adequacy of a model is not an absolute requisite, because it has to be assessed according to the specific purpose it is used for. Occurrence of extended lactations and of new productive and functional traits to be described and the increase of records coming from automatic milking systems likely will represent some of the future challenges for the mathematical modelling of the lactation curve in dairy cattle.
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