Dairy farmers need to replace cows in the herd frequently because of health and infertility issues; yet this expensive practice could also be avoided in some cases through a range of simple, effective measures.

The pressure on dairy farmers to focus on 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 program 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 program aims to highlight the main causes of involuntary culling of dairy 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 Euro or 300 USD per case.

Improving the lifetime productivity of cows, as a result of renewed focus on animal welfare and management techniques, is an important step towards realizing DeLaval’s vision of making sustainable food production possible.

DeLaval continues to develop solutions to assist farmers in improving the average lifetime of their dairy cows. One such product is Herd Navigator – an advanced milk analysis tool. It detects the cows which need additional attention and the action required.