Longevity through optimal udder health
Cows can perform at top level for many years, given the opportunity. An older dairy herd is economically more profitable. Several scientific studies show that 50% to 70% of cows are forcibly disposed of around the age of four or five years (Gosselink et al., 2008). The three main reasons to dispose cows early from the herd are poor udder health, reduced fertility, and feet and claw challenges. Extending the productive lifespan of dairy cows is more sustainable and economically more profitable. What needs to be done to increase the longevity of your dairy herd?
Culling is an important management tool in dairy herds, as it affects herd economics and animal welfare. Culling is the removal of cows from the herd, typically in order to make room for younger animals with higher genetic merit (Gussman et al., 2019). Culling is used as a management tool by making strategic culling decisions to improve the genetic value and/or production of a herd or involves involuntary culling due to severe health challenges.
Poor udder health important reason for involuntary culling
Udder health is second most frequent reason for culling dairy cows in New Zealand (number one is fertility. Optimal udder health is therefore one of the most important levers when it comes to extending the lifespan of dairy cows. Preventing udder health challenges leads to lower replacement rates, higherlongevity, improved animal welfare and better financial results.
Udder health is one of the most challenging issues for dairy farmers. After all, a good and healthy udder is crucial for delivering more high quality milk, cows feeling more comfortable, eating better, and requiring less attention of the farmer. This lowers the need for administering traditional methods. The risk of impaired udder health is highest in the first hundred days of lactation. The implications of reduced udder health can be significant.
Implications of reduced udder health
Impact of udder health challenges:
- Loss of milk and decreased milk production;
- Reduced milk quality;
- Increased risk of recurring challenges;
- Higher culling rates (higher replacement rate);
- Labour intensive.
What is the optimal productive lifespan?
After five lactations, a cow reaches the peak of her production. Research shows that economically, 8 to 9 lactations is optimal, when a cow is at an age of 10 to 11 years. Farmers who milk older cows also need fewer young stock and can reduce the replacement rate by 10 to 15%. The productive lifespan of average cows varies from less than 3 years (Pinedo et al., 2014) to at least 6 years (CRV, 2022) in countries with modern dairy industries. Thus, the economically optimal replacement age of cows is much higher than the average current cull age. Also, less forced culling is a sign of fewer health challenges on the farm, and this directly translates to more income.
Main benefits from low replacement rates
To monitor the economic impact of lifetime production, the replacement rate is a crucial key figure. The main benefits from low replacement rates (Evers et al., 2017) are:
- Cows can maintain their milk yield peak for longer from the third lactation onwards;
- Older cows have a better colostrum quality;
- Older cows have a higher feed intake and produce more efficiently compared to heifers;
- Lower replacement costs;
- More targeted selection/culling ;
- Reduced emissions of ammonia and greenhouse gases, less use of concentrate feed and less surplus on the mineral balance.
How can you optimise udder health on your farm?
To support and optimise udder health, AHV has developed an udder health approach. This approach focuses on early identification and addressing abnormalities. We look at Herd test (HT) data: abnormal data can be an indication of (upcoming) udder health challenges. Our Territory Managers will be happy to discuss this with you and provide advice based on your farm’s specific data to minimise permanent udder damage and associated costs.
- Gosselink, J. M. J., Bos, A. P., Bokma, S., & Koerkamp, P. G. (2008). Oudere koeien voor een duurzame houderij. V-focus, 5(4), 30-31.
- Gussmann, M., Denwood, M., Kirkeby, C., Farre, M., & Halasa, T. (2019). Associations between udder health and culling in dairy cows. Preventive veterinary medicine, 171, 104751.
- Pinedo, P. J., Daniels, A., Shumaker, J., & De Vries, A. (2014). Dynamics of culling for Jersey, Holstein, and Jersey× Holstein crossbred cows in large multibreed dairy herds. Journal of dairy science, 97(5), 2886-2895.
- CRV. Visited 11-21-2022. https://www.cooperatie-crv.nl/downloads/stamboek/bedrijven-en-koeien-in-cijfers/
- Evers, A. G., & de Haan, M. H. A. (2017). Hoge levensproductie Nederlandse melkkoeien.
AHV (Animal Health Vision) is the global leader in quorum sensing-powered animal health solutions and advisory services, giving #PowerToTheFarmer to optimise their animal health. Since opening in New Zealand February 2022, AHV has tailored a range of protocols to New Zealand farming challenges to power herd longevity, productivity and profitability. Reach out to your local Territory Manager or call AHV New Zealand at 0800 424 869 to learn more about how AHV can support your farm.
Get in touch!
Would you like to be visited by an Territory Manager to discuss the health challenges on your farm together? Our AHV Territory Manager will be happy to visit you to jointly assess the health of your cows and come up with appropriate farm-specific advice.
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