NEW RESEARCH: Extending cow longevity on dairy farms by improving calf management practices in the first year of life

Dairy cow longevity has a significant impact on the sustainability of dairy production considering that an animal’s profitability in milk production often begins in its 3rd lactation. Good management in the early life of a calf appears to have an effect on the performance and future productivity of the animal[i], but few studies exist on the long term influence of management practices and feeding strategies in this period.

A project under the Dairy Research Cluster 3, led by Greg Keefe and J Trenton McClure (University of Prince Edward Island), in collaboration with Elsa Vasseur (McGill University) and Débora Santschi (Lactanet), is investigating the associations between calf welfare and management, and actual cow productivity and longevity compared to its projected genetic potential. 

“We aim to identify best management practices that can be adopted to help calves reach their full genetic potential,” said Greg Keefe. “This work, along with Elsa Vasseur’s research (NSERC/Novalait/Dairy Farmers of Canada/Lactanet Industrial Research Chair in the Sustainable Life of Dairy Cattle), will support longer term productive lives for Canadian dairy cows,” added Keefe.  

The team will be collecting data from over 1,500 farms in Quebec and the Maritimes on calf management practices including colostrum management practices, pre-weaning nutrition (growth) and calf health events (morbidity and mortality). The researchers will also use data already collected on approximately 3,500 calves in New Brunswick using a comprehensive calf diary to gather information about the animals. They will include factors like health and immunity, nutrition, weight gain and disease incidents documented over time. Data for milk production (305-day production for completed lactation, total lifetime production to end of study), date culled and reasons for cows leaving the herd will be extracted yearly from the Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) database. Associations between the data collected in early life and adult cow productivity and longevity will be evaluated and calculated.

A subset of these animals that had genetic testing as calves will be connected with management, nutrition and health data to study the impact of early life management on achieving calf genetic potential as measured by the animal’s productivity and longevity. 

“We are working with a great team to identify management practices and health events in calfhood to help farmers get the most out of the genetic potential of their animals,” said J Trenton McClure. “Lactanet is administering the calf management survey to producers. We also are seeking producers that genotype a portion of their calves to help with this research project by completing an additional short survey on veterinary practices and calf health events on their farm,” concluded McClure.


Dairy Farmers Needed for this Research Survey!

Dairy Farmers from Quebec and New Brunswick are invited to participate to this study! 

If you choose to participate, please answer six short questions by clicking on the link below to see if your herd qualifies for the study. If you qualify, the researchers will contact you with a short 15-minute follow up questionnaire relating to health management in your calves. The researchers will also ask for your permission to access your production records through Lactanet on the animals you have genetically tested. The records requested will be as follows: milk production, fertility, survivability, health parameters, and body condition. 

After you complete the 15-minute questionnaire, the researchers will provide you with a $10 gift card of your choice (Tim Horton’s or Canadian Tire) to thank you for your time. If you have any questions before making your decision, do not hesitate to contact in English, Elizah McFarland (edmcfarland@upei.ca) 902-566-0969, Dr. J.T McClure (jmcclure@upei.ca) 902-566-0717 or Dr. Greg Keefe (gkeefe@upei.ca) and in French, Cynthia Mitchell (camitchell@upei.ca) 902-566-6081. 

Thank you for considering the request to participate!

English: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TMFBG32


Project Overview

  • Principal Investigators: Greg Keefe and J Trenton McClure (University of Prince Edward Island)
  • Co-Investigators: Elsa Vasseur (McGill University), Luke Heider (University of Prince Edward Island) and Débora Santschi (Lactanet) 
  • Duration: 2018-2022
  • Total budget: $269,100 

Download a summary of the project here: DairyResearch.ca.


[i]Lohakare et al., 2012. Asian-Austrasas J. Anim. Sci. 25(9): 1338; Dingwell et al., 2006. J. Dairy Sci. 89(10): 3992 

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