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Exploring cow longevity in New Zealand

Farmers understand the benefits of improving cow productivity. To achieve this, AbacusBio is working within a multi-disciplinary team to determine how cow longevity can be improved.

The research programme, which is led by DairyNZ and also involves Massey University, Cognosco, and VetSouth, will provide solutions to address the main causes of animal attrition and health-related productivity losses in New Zealand dairy herds.

“While overseas research has shown a trend towards decreasing longevity in dairy cows, we do not currently have a clear understanding of what this looks like in New Zealand and where improvements can be made,” DairyNZ project leader Dr Claire Phyn says.

Increasing the average lifetime of cows by one or more lactations could offer huge financial benefits to the dairy industry and improve animal well-being.

Not only would the national herd’s average age and milk production increase, the cost of cow replacement would be reduced.

As part of the initial investigation, AbacusBio consultants Joanne Kerslake, Peter Amer, Katarzyna Stachowicz, and Sammy Wong are using industry data to analyse the reasons for cow removals from dairy farms.

They are also determining how cow removal from the herd is affected by age and stage of lactation.

“This is useful for identifying the causes of animal removal that cost the dairy industry the most,” Joanne says.

To quantify the costs associated with different reasons for cow removal, a model has been developed that accounts for the stage of lactation and parity of the cow when she is removed from the herd, and how that affects the herd’s replacement rate.

“The cost-benefit is then quantified using the replacement costs, salvage value of culled cows, and cost of lower milk production due to a greater proportion of younger cows in the herd,” Joanne says.

“Understanding the causes of cow wastage and the costs associated with each cause will ensure that our research focuses on the most important issues,” Dr Phyn says.

The research results from the programme’s first stage will be released next year.

The next stage of the programme will look at animal husbandry, farm management, and nutrition practices that could offer improvements in dairy cow health and welfare leading to better productivity and longevity.

The programme is jointly funded by New Zealand dairy farmers through DairyNZ Inc. and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

More information can be found on the website www.dairynz.co.nz/what-wedo/ research/key-projects/pillars-ofa- sustainable-dairy-system/lifetimeproductivity/