How to reach 5 lactations on a dairy farm?

80% of dairy cow health problems occur during the transition to lactation

Managing the transition to lactation of dairy cows is the key to reaching at least 5 lactations because 80% of health problems occur during the transition period. About 30% of all dairy cows are subject to suffering:

  • 30% are wounded
  • 20% are lame
  • 50% have sole lesions
  • 50% have subclinical milk fever
  • 26% have mastitis
  • 25% suffer from subclinical ketosis
  • 20% of cows are being culled in their 1st lactation

Management practices on 50 large Dutch dairy farms were analysed and it was found that:

  • 20% carry out a heifer hoof check
  • 33% have a dry-off group
  • 50% have 85 cm feed space per cow
  • 50% move cows on straw 10 days before calving
  • 20% use a cuddle box   

Figure 1: the 6 freedoms of the pasture that will keep dairy cows happy and healthy.

The benefits of reaching 5 lactations or more

In a study carried out by CRV, the Lifetime production of 8.838 Dutch dairy cows that yielded 100.000 litres of milk or more was analysed. They reached their maximum lactation yield of 7 and even lactations 8-10 showed a higher yield than lactations 1-3. To increase the number of lactations per cow, dairy cows should be given the 6 freedoms of the pasture, even if they are under a roof. Giving dairy cows the 6 freedoms of pasture will keep them healthy (see Figure 1).

Increasing the number of lactations of dairy cows by 2 would make dairy farming more sustainable because it would result in the reduction of methane emissions of about 30%.

 This reduction is due to the fact that:

  • The number of youngstock needed for replacement would go down by 50%
  • Heifers would calve at 23 months
  • The feed efficiency of older cows is better compared to younger ones

Dairy cows need a place to eat and a place to rest

It is crucial for cows to spend enough time eating. There is a relation between resting time and feeding time. For every 3.5 minutes of extra resting time, cows will eat 1 minute longer. A Dutch study showed a strong relationship between feeding time and ketosis.

The same study showed a variation of 7-15 hours of resting time between farms included in the study. In another study, it was shown that cows with hypocalcaemia had eaten 7.5 kg less in the period before calving. This was due to:

  • Lack of sufficient eating and resting time
  • Insufficient space at the feeding fence
  • Insufficient number of beds
  • Late introduction into the calving group

A study carried out by Ohio State University showed a reduction of stillbirth of 1.3% point for every hour of extra resting time.


If cows can stay healthy and happy, they will produce for 5 instead of 2,5 lactations. 

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