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Reducing the wastage in the dairy herd - LS3310

Infertility is the main reason for culling dairy cows, with the current rate of failure to conceive in the UK National herd estimated at 18%. Metabolic disturbances in the period immediately before and after parturition are strongly associated with fertility problems, particularly in high yielding cows. Currently a significant number of heifers produced in the UK never reach their first lactation due to losses as juveniles, while many more complete only one lactation, well below the optimum herd life of greater than 5 years which has been calculated to maximise income. This study aims to answer the following questions: (1) At what point in the life of a heifer can the underlying problems which will lead to poor fertility first be detected? (2) Are these problems primarily attributable to the genotype of the cow or to the environment to which she has been exposed? Two studies will be performed in parallel. In the first, we will continue to monitor a cohort of calves (already tracked from birth) through their first three lactations to investigate the relationships between metabolic status, milk production and fertility to find out how these change with age and their influence on the timing and reasons for culling. In the second study, we will determine the relative importance of genetic and environmental components during the rearing period in relation to subsequent cow longevity by performing an observational cohort study to obtain on-farm data on a larger pool of animals kept on commercial farms. This approach will allow a comprehensive description of the associations between a multitude of potential risk factors and the fertility outcome variables under field conditions. The results of these two studies will enable us to provide guidelines on what steps can be taken (either by management or genetic selection) to reduce the proportion of heifers which never reach their first or second lactations. Improvements in heifer breeding will improve the genetic merit of British dairy cows by identifying traits which should lead to increased longevity. Reducing wastage of dairy heifers and yound cows will improve sustainability of UK livestock production by facilitating the development of a smaller more efficient dairy herd with resulting improvements to the environments due to lower nitrogen input levels and greenhouse gas omissions.
Project Documents
• Final Report : Reducing the wastage in the dairy herd   (557k)
• Final Report - Annex : Update on publications, Oct 2008-Oct 2009   (25k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2003

To: 2008

Cost: £841,633
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Royal Veterinary College
Climate Change              
Livestock Farming              
Sustainable Farming and Food              
Sustainable Production              
Fields of Study