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Adding value to a dairy herd

Adding value to a dairy herd

Dairy farmers are always looking at ways to increase the value of their herds. The management style has a major effect on the value of cows, heifers and their combined output. Although some farmers may be good at producing feeds; such as growing pastures, making hay or silage, some do not apply good animal management. Adding value to a dairy herd can be done in different ways with short, medium and long term effects.

Maintaining (or increasing) the number of cows in a dairy herd has a major effect on the value of the herd. Each animal in the herd has an intrinsic value. This means that they should be managed to produce an income at the highest possible level. A major loss in many dairy herds is the large number of cows and heifers culled every year before reaching their lifetime potential income. Reducing the number of cows culled has an add-on effect as cows live longer reaching higher milk yield levels in third to fifth lactation while a smaller number of replacement heifers are required to maintain the herd size. As fewer heifers are required to replace cows, it provides additional heifers to be sold as an additional income source for the dairy farm to dairy herds suffering from high cull rates or wanting to expand their herds. As the heritability of productive life is low, i.e. about 8%, it means that environmental factors have a major effect on the lifetime and productive lifetime of cows. In many cases cows are lost from the herd because of involuntary culling. This means that cows are culled because of preventable reasons such as recurring mastitis, not becoming pregnant, injuries, diseases and health. Very few cows are culled voluntarily because of low milk yields.

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  • Research Associate, Faculty of Animal Sciences, University of Stellenbosch

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