Resilient dairy cows are worth more. Researchers studying resilience are discovering the benefits of resilience for cow wellbeing, production life span and profitability in milk production.
What resilience can NOT do in dairy cows
Resilience cannot replace good management practices, stresses Professor Müller, Director of the Ruminant and Swine Clinic of the Freie Universität Berlin in a webinar presentation organized by Anco Animal Nutrition Competence.
Ultimately it is about preparing the cow for stressors and challenges that cannot be controlled by management. One of these challenges for example is the change from the dry period stage into the lactation stage, i.e., the transition period. This is a natural and unstoppable process initiated by calving. However, the period around calving and the start of lactation is very stressful for the cow, especially for high producing dairy cows. A resilient cow can better adapt to this change from one stage into another and to the shock to her metabolism.
Also, the ability to adapt to issues arising from climate change play an important role to reduce the impact of heat stress on performance and animal welfare in dairy cow husbandry.
Definition of resilience in animal production
Colditz and Hine (2016) defined resilience as. “The capacity of the animal to return rapidly to its pre-challenge state following short-term exposure to a challenging situation.” In other words, resilience in animals is the product of a better adaptability or lower sensitivity to a challenge.
In the following short video Professor Kerstin-Elisabeth Mueller explains the concept with a few very good visual representations.
Benefits of resilient dairy cows for competitive milk production
- Resilient dairy cows have a greater chance for increased longevity
The production life span of a dairy cow is an important factor for the profitability of a dairy herd. However, many cows leave the herd early and 40% leave within the first 100 days of lactation.
The reason for short-lived production life spans are often production related diseases. It has been confirmed that the cause of it has more to do with a sub-optimal adaption during the transition period than with high milk yields.
Resilient dairy cows have a higher adaptive capacity, which reduces the risk for them to develop production diseases during the transition period. Researchers in the Netherlands have been able to detect dairy cows with a higher risk of developing production diseases in the transition period through specific metabolic indicators and sensor technology in advance.
- Resilient dairy cows can cope better with climate change
It has been shown that there is a need in animal production to be able to adapt to climate change, to ensure stable incomes on farms. Especially high producing dairy cows are more sensitive to high ambient temperatures and are more prone to suffer from heat stress, due to their increased body heat production.
Cows experiencing heat stress produce less milk, lower milk quality and are more susceptible to disease. For those reasons, animal geneticists are trying to find ways to breed dairy cows that are more resilient to high ambient temperatures.
- Resilient dairy cows require less labour time
A shortage in labour in dairy production increases the need for dairy cows that are easier to care for. Researchers from the Netherlands report that resilient dairy cows require less labour time, because the cows show less problems. The performance of these cows is more consistent, and they are more likely to maintain their health, which means that cow sensors submit fewer warning signals for animal care workers to attend to the animals. A reduction in time spent on an animal with an alert from sensors will also reduce costs associated with labour
What are the factors influencing resilience in dairy cows?
Resilience in dairy cows is to some extent influenced by her genetic make-up, i.e. breeding. However, external factors such as management practices and nutrition have a far bigger influence on resilience of the cow, explains Professor Mueller in an Anco webinar
Watch this short video to see what Professor Mueller had to say.
The value of resilient dairy cows is increasing, because they provide an opportunity to satisfy trends in consumer demands for animal welfare and at the same time can influence profitability in milk production in a sustainable way.
Automatic milking and feeding systems in combination with new sensor technologies enable the measurement of resilience in the dairy cow and the progress made.
Collaboration between geneticists, veterinarians, animal behaviour researchers, animal nutritionists, ag tech businesses and farmers has the best chance of success for a significant long-term improvement in resilience of dairy cows.
At Anco Animal Nutrition Competence we are contributing to finding solutions to support resilience in dairy cows via nutrition. Ask for Anco FIT products to take the first step for more resilience in dairy cows.