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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Effects of herd management decisions on dairy cow longevity, farm profitability, and emissions of enteric methane - a simulation study of milk and beef production

Clasen, J. B.; Fikse, W. F.; Ramin, M.; Lindberg, M.


Sustainable dairy and beef production provides environmental, economic, and social values that can potentially be maximized by optimizing herd management strategies. The length of a dairy cow's life is affected by, and affects, all three pillars of sustainability. Longevity in dairy cows is multifactorial and strongly dependent on herd management. Despite genetic improvements, the average time of culling for Swedish cows has barely changed and is currently at 2.6 lactations. This culling rate requires a high number of replacement heifers, generating high rearing costs for farmers. This study evaluated different herd management strategies to improve cow longevity and assessed the effects on enteric methane (CH4) emissions from the herd and the profitability of milk production and beef production from the dairy cows and their offspring. The base scenario, an average Swedish Holstein herd of 100 cows, was compared with seven scenarios simulated using a stochastic herd simulation model (SimHerd). Two of these scenarios involved improved health and survival of cows in the herd, three involved improved reproduction, one considered the consequences of keeping all surplus heifers in the herd, and one considered maximizing the use of X-sorted dairy semen and inseminating the rest of the herd with unsorted beef semen, to avoid surplus replacement heifers. Improved fertility had the greatest effect in increasing the productive life per cow, to 3.8 years compared with 2.8 in the base scenario, allowed for more use of beef semen, reduced the number of replacement heifers, and generated the highest herd profit (698 per cow-year higher than base scenario). Keeping all surplus heifers instead of producing beef x dairy cross calves decreased the number of productive years by 0.8 and reduced profit by 622 per cow-year. The profit was highly associated with costs related to replacement heifers. The highest beef output (3 369 kg per year more than base scenario) was achieved by keeping all heifers and culling a high share of dairy cows, but this scenario also generated much higher enteric CH4 emissions (+1 257 kg per year). Improving health, survival, or fertility reduced enteric CH4 emissions by 90-255 kg per year, while total yearly beef production ranged from 59 kg less to 556 kg more than in the base scenario. Reducing the number of replacement heifers needed by improving cow reproductive performance is thus key to increasing cow longevity and profitability, while reducing enteric CH4 emissions from the herd without compromising milk and meat production. (c) 2023 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier B.V. on behalf of The Animal Consortium. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (


Beef semen; Fertility; Health; Herd management

Published in

2024, Volume: 18, number: 2, article number: 101051
Publisher: ELSEVIER