The pressure on dairy farmers to focus on milk yield per cow, and the perceived cost of treating cows with health issues, or the missed opportunities that arise when an animal fails to get pregnant, means that cows are being removed from the herd all too quickly today, a new focus programme from DeLaval shows.

“Every year, around 35-40% of the cows in a herd are replaced,” says Charlotte HallenSandgren, Dairy Development Director at DeLaval International AB.

“Of these, 70-80% are involuntarily culled due to health, predominantly mastitis and lameness, or fertility problems.”

The average lifetime of a dairy cow today is 4.8 years, the study shows, of which half of this time is classed as productivity. In this period, a cow might have 2.5 lactations before being replaced. With more effective monitoring to avoid health issues, and more accurate ways of assessing when a cow is in heat, there are no reasons why the number of lactations and, therefore, the lifetime of a cow, cannot be extended far beyond today’s averages. This would significantly improve the profitability of each animal, while avoiding the considerable (and often hidden) costs of replacement.

The new programme aims to highlight the main causes of involuntary culling of milk cows: infertility, lameness and mastitis, while offering practical advice and support for reducing the causes of these conditions. In most cases, attention to hygiene, nutrition, animal comfort and effective monitoring can have a dramatic effect.

It is estimated that preventing lameness alone, through better observation and reducing queue times at milking, could save around €220 or US$300 per case.