Cash Cows Come With Age

Mike Lormore, DVM, MS, MBA Director Cattle Technical Services Zoetis

It’s common to cull older cows while making room for younger ones. You orchestrate this herd turnover to ensure the longevity and productivity of your herd, but could it be hurting your farm’s profitability?

The cost of herd turnover extends beyond the difference between the monetary value of a cull cow and its replacement. You also must factor in the animals’ production potential. First-lactation animals produce 15% less milk than second-lactation cows and 25% less than third-lactation cows.1 When you replace mature cows with younger ones, you can experience production losses.

Zoetis and Compeer Financial identified net herd turnover cost as a major driver of dairy profitability in an analysis of 11 years of herd data, including 489 year-end financial and production-record summaries. Their study found that the difference in profit between the herds with the highest and lowest rates of turnover was 7 pounds of milk per cow per day, and $376 per cow per year.1*

The key to maximizing your herd’s production potential and your profit margins is minimizing your net herd turnover cost. In the financial driver study, the bottom third of dairies analyzed had an average net herd turnover cost of $1.99/cwt, more than double that of the top third of dairies at just $0.91/cwt. If you reduce herd turnover rates and maintain a herd with a higher proportion of aged cows, your milk production levels will increase, resulting in a positive impact on net farm income.

While you work toward reducing herd turnover, how do you still ensure the quality of your herd and the milk they produce?

Monitor and manage SCC — Mastitis infections are difficult to diagnose, resulting in problems for cows and their milk production when the infection progresses and symptoms manifest. Individual somatic cell counts (SCC) of 200,000 cells/mL or higher may indicate a subclinical mastitis infection. By routinely monitoring your cows’ SCC data, you can spot mastitis infections before they have the opportunity to affect production. If your cows’ SCC are abnormally elevated, contact your veterinarian to talk about treatment options.

Focus on fresh cow health — Post-calving infections, such as metritis, pose a serious threat to cows’ milk production and future reproductive potential. Keep cows in your herd longer by treating infection as soon as it occurs.

Raise the right cows for your herd — If you want a herd that is going to meet your production and profit goals, you need to stock it with the right animals. Consider genomic testing to help identify animals with increased risk for costly dairy diseases. This tool can allow you to select for traits that will bring your farm the most profit. Additionally, you can assess calves for production potential and health risks soon after birth, allowing you to make more educated breeding and replacement decisions.

 

 

Learn more about how net herd turnover cost or another one of the six dairy financial drivers can impact your farm.

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