Increasing the cow's lifetime – why bother?
The high turnover rate of cows in intensive milk production is receiving increased attention around the globe. Apart from welfare consequences, the short productive lifetime has a negative impact on farm profitability and sustainability.
The importance of improving cow longevity (Jeff Rushen, University of British Columbia)
High rates of involuntary culling on a dairy farm because of illness or reproductive problems occur because of poor cow welfare and reduce the profitability of dairy farms. Removing the main causes of involuntary culling will lead to improved animal welfare and improved farm profits. Calf illness and mortality is also a contributor to reduced longevity and poor calf management can have a negative impact on the cow’s later productivity. Some of the risk factors in indoor housing that lead to lameness, injury and illness in dairy cattle have been indentified, and there are producers with low involuntary culling rates, which shows us that there are housing and management practices that improve the cow’s well-being and control the prevalence of the underlying health problems. The challenge lies in reaching the producers with this information and getting it implemented.
The cost benefit of keeping the cow in the herd (Albert De Vries, University of Florida)
In his presentation Albert will show some economic examples on the value of reducing death losses early in lactation and keeping cows more healthy throughout their lives. These examples might not show an increase in cow longevity, but he thinks it will result in improved profitability for farms. Forced culling of cows early in lactation is expensive, in the order of $500 to $1000 per cow, making it very important to look at in what stage of lactation the cow is culled, and why. Survival analysis has shown that a large number of cows leave the herd early in lactation largely due to metabolic health reasons. The risk of death is greatest early in lactation. Efforts to reduce death rates and improve early lactation health, and therefore intrinsic cow longevity, are to be profitable.