Cow longevity starts at birth

We’ll come clean. Our headline is misleading. Cow longevity actually starts before birth. There is now a wealth of information that shows how important it is that the cow’s mother is well looked-after in the weeks leading up to calving.

There is in reality no starting point when it comes to cow longevity. Every part of the lifecycle plays an important role. But we do know that the weeks leading up to calving and the first weeks of a calf’s life shape that calf’s future as a dairy cow.

The better the cow is looked after before calving, the better chances the calf has at birth. A balanced and structured diet will improve the chances of a successful delivery. Supplements of vitamin E and Selenium can also stave off  potential diseases in the unborn calf. Cow comfort is also critical for a smooth delivery and a smooth delivery is what’s required to give your calf the potential to a long and productive life. 

Once born, it’s time for the farmer to do everything possible to ensure that the calf receives good quality colostrum. This is the best insurance against diarrhea and pneumonia, the two biggest causes of calf death. Put it another way. Calves cannot survive without colostrum and feeding large amounts of it to newborn calves boost their health and post-weaning feed consumption. 

The ultimate goal then is to have a healthy, strong calf that is drinking milk on its own as soon as possible and then transitioning to a solid diet. If the calf is getting enough feed to grow fast and if kept in a clean environment with a stable climate, then all the conditions are there for a successful productive life.

“Growth rate and nutrient intake prior to weaning are more important than genetic selection when it comes to production. Pre-weaning calf nutrition and management can yield at least four times more milk than genetic selection for the first and second lactation,” says Charlotte Hallén Sandgren, Head of Dairy Development at DeLaval.

High early growth rates also lead to increased fertility in heifers and first-lactation cows. They also increase the chances for heifers to calve at a young age (24-25 months) resulting in greater lifetime yields.

And given this critical period, monitoring is seen as one of the best ways to ensure the best possible conditions for your calf. Farmers that find ways of assessing their calves in a standardized way can find the sick ones quickly and minimize risks.

“We see that farms that monitor calf growth rates are better at ensuring a longer productive life time of their herd,” says Hallén Sandgren.

Regular and early monitoring prevent delays in reaching sexual maturity and first calving, can determine whether calves are underfed and whether heifers are overfed or underfed. They can also establish the correct bodyweight at first calving and minimize calving problems.

In our previous article, we looked at the cow Vega on the island of Öland. Vega lived for 17 years delivering an average of 25kg of milk every day of her productive life. A perfect calfhood was one of the key reasons for her productivity and long life. Our next article looks at another key area – the transition periods from pregnancy to delivery and into lactation.

For more in-depth information on the topic,read our brochure on cow longevity andcalf management.

Your local sales representative can also advise you when it comes to the right equipment for good calf management.