Culling from the herd's perspective—Exploring herd-level management factors and culling rates in Québec dairy herds

D Haine, H Delgado, R Cue, A Sewalem, K Wade, R Lacroix, D Lefebvre, J Arsenault, É Bouchard, J Dubuc

The relationship between cows’ health, reproductive performance or disorders and their longevity is well demonstrated in the literature. However these associations at the cow level might not hold true at the herd level, and herd-level variables can modify cow-level outcomes independently of the cows’ characteristics. The interaction between cow-level and herd-level variables is a relevant issue for understanding the culling of dairy cows. However it requires the appropriate group-level variables to assess any contextual effect. Based on 10 years of health and production data, the objectives of this paper are: (a) to quantify the culling rates of dairy herds in Québec; (b) to determine the profiles of the herds based on herd-level factors, such as demographics, reproduction, production and health indicators, and whether these profiles can be related to herd culling rates; and © to determine potential contextual variables affecting the culling risk of individual cows. A retrospective longitudinal study was conducted on data from dairy herds in Québec, Canada, by extracting health information events from the dairy herd health management software used by most Québec producers and their veterinarians. Data were extracted for all lactations taking place between January 1st, 2001 and December 31st, 2010. A total of 432,733 lactations from 156,409 cows out of 763 herds were available for analysis. Thirty herd-level variables were aggregated for each herd and years of follow-up, and their relationship was investigated by Multiple Factor Analysis (MFA). The overall yearly culling rate was 32%, with a 95% confidence interval (CI) of [31.6,32.5]. The dairy sale rate by 60 days in milk (DIM) was 3.2% [2.8,3.6]. The yearly culling rate within 60 DIM was 8.2% [7.9,8.4]. The explained variance for each axis from the MFA was very low: 14.8% for the first axis and 13.1% for the second. From the MFA results, we conclude there is no relationship between the groups of herd-level indicators, demonstrating the heterogeneity among herds for their demographics, reproduction and production performance, and health status. However, the profiles of herds could be determined according to specific domains independently. The relationships between culling rates and specific herd-level variables were limited to livestock sales, proportion of first lactation cows, herd size, proportion of calvings occurring in the fall, longer calving intervals and reduced 21-day pregnancy rates, increased days to first service, average age at first calving, and reduced milk fever incidence. The indicators found could be considered as contextual variables in multilevel model-building strategies to investigate cow culling risk.

In Preventive Veterinary Medicine

Paper here.