It is expected that there will be some turnover of cows on a dairy farm as cows are removed because of low milk production or to sell. However as much as 70-80% of all cullings are involuntary, and the main 3 reasons are lameness, mastitis and reproduction problems. These high rates of involuntary culling on a farm are a sign of poor animal welfare and are very costly to the dairy farmer.
In order to address this problem, there is plenty of research and knowledge available to support dairy farmers. The solutions do not have to be radical changes nor involve large investments. Even simple things that improve cow comfort can have a dramatic positive effect.
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Glossary of terms:
- Cow longevity refers to how long a cow stays in the herd.
- Culling is the departure of animals from the herd because of sale, slaughter, salvage, or death (Fetrow et al., 2006).
- Productive life is the time from first calving to culling.
- Culling is sometimes considered either voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary culling occurs
when the primary reason for disposal is poor milk production but the cow is otherwise healthy and fertile. Involuntary culling occurs when the dairy farmer is “forced” to remove a productive, otherwise profitable cow, due to illness, injury, infertility of death (Weigel et al. 2003).
After 130 years of serving dairy farmers worldwide DeLaval’s vision for the future is that we should make sustainable food production possible. We do this by working towards the reduction of the environmental footprint of farms, while increasing food production, farm profitability and improving the well-being of the people and animals involved. As most our customers are dairy farmers we build on our Sustainable Dairy Farming Initiative that we launched in 2008. Improved animal welfare was identified from the start as being one of the four pillars that are necessary for making a dairy farm sustainable. Read more
A large number of dairy cows leave the herd in early lactation largely due to metabolic health reasons, and the risk of death is highest early in lactation. The most common “reason” for a cow to leave the herd in the US is death, comprising 21 % of the turnover of cows. Involuntary culling of cows early in lactation is expensive, in the order of $500 to $1000 (380 to 760 EURO) per cow (US data). This does not include losses in milk yield due to disease or extra labor and delayed replacement. Efforts to reduce death rates and improve early lactation health are therefore often profitable. Read more
A turnover of cows on a dairy farm is to be expected, as farmers remove cows because of low milk production or sell them. However, much of the low longevity of dairy cows results from involuntary culling because of poor health or fertility problems. High rates of involuntary culling on a farm are a sign of poor animal welfare and are very costly to dairy producers. The main causes of involuntary culling are the same in different parts of the world, although proportions might differ: reproduction, udder health and lameness. A reduction of these causes of low longevity leads to improved animal welfare and farm profitability. Read more
Management during the transition period, i.e. three weeks before and after calving, is highly associated to the cow's milk yield at peak and consequently for the full lactation. Also, 70-80% of disease incidence occurs during the transition period. The key management factors related to fresh cow health and milk yield are: to provide sufficient bunk space so that cows can eat simultaneously when fresh feed is delivered, increase cow comfort by providing ample space to lie down and facilitate rising and minimizing lameness with soft deep bedded stalls or packs in this period. Read more
Productivity and health starts when the cow is born, not at her first calving. The effect of nurture is many times greater than nature and the pre-weaning period is a phase of development where the productivity of the calf can be modified to enhance the animal’s genetic potential. Pre-weaning growth rate explains 22 % of the variation in milk yield in first lactation compared to only 7% variation from genetic selection. Anything that detracts from feed intake and pre-weaning growth rate reduces the opportunity for enhanced milk yield as an adult. Read more
Although cows are social animals, they compete for access to resources, such as food and lying areas. This competition can lead to stress responses, and dairy cows, especially high-producing cows, may find themselves in a trade-off situation between lying and eating if they are under time constraints. If the total lying time is below 10 hours per day the cow might be in lack of time. She will eat less when pressed for time, and consequently produce less milk. To provide the high-yielding dairy cow with proper working conditions she should have free access to feed and resting areas, and it is important to limit waiting time before milking. Read more
If cows can lie down comfortably, they will be more likely to stay in the herd. Stalls are usually designed for the cows to defecate outside the lying area, which is beneficial for the people maintaining the barn, but not conducive to the cows’ natural lying behavior. Most of the free-stalls are too short for the cow to lie down comfortably. The width of the stalls is also problematic because cows can cannot lie on their sides or stretch their legs. Bedding should be soft, clean, dry and, if possible, inorganic. It is the sum of all the different parts that creates an environment for good animal welfare, which can improve productivity. Read more
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