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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2009

Heifer rearing conditions affect length of productive life in Swedish dairy cows

Hultgren, Jan; Svensson, Catarina


Associations between rearing conditions and the risk of culling in dairy cows were studied by survival analysis. Data were collected from 1039 Swedish Red cows, 1029 Swedish Holsteins, and 56 cows of other milk or cross-breeds, representing all female animals born in 109 Swedish herds during 1998. Length of productive life was defined as the number of days from 1 st calving to culling. The applied Weibull proportional hazards model included time-independent effects of breed, housing from 3 to 7 months of age, number of housing changes before calving, grazing before 1 st calving, herd median age at 1 st calving, age at 1 st calving, cow housing, herd lactational incidence risk of veterinary-reported clinical mastitis, and the random effect of herd. Time-dependent effects were year, month, the interaction year by month, parity, number of breedings, pregnancy status, the interaction parity by pregnancy status, herd mean milk-production level, relative milk yield within breed-parity, and veterinary-reported clinical mastitis. The lactation was divided into six stages in which pregnancy status was assumed to be known by the farmer and culling could occur. Median productive life time in culled cows was 780 d and 14% of the records were censored due to terminated data collection. An individual calving age of 28.2-30.9 months was associated with the highest culling risk, 1.2-fold higher than calving at <= 25.3 months, whereas the risk decreased almost linearly with a higher herd median age at 1 st calving. Housing in slatted pens with >7 calves from 3 to 7 months was associated with a 1.7-fold increase in risk, relative to litter pens. If a cow had changed housing system 4 times before 1 st calving it increased the risk of culling 1.4 times, relative to two housing changes. These results show that rearing factors affect the productive life time of dairy cows in Swedish family operations. (C) 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Culling; Dairy cattle; Health; Length of productive life; Rearing; Replacement heifer; Survival

Published in

Preventive Veterinary Medicine
2009, volume: 89, number: 3-4, pages: 255-264

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Animal Environment and Health
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Animal Environment and Health

UKÄ Subject classification

Animal and Dairy Science
Veterinary Science

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