Extending lactation length : consequences for cow, calf, and farmer

Knegsel, Ariette T.M. van; Burgers, Eline E.A.; Ma, Junnan; Goselink, Roselinde M.A.; Kok, Akke


Traditionally, a 1-yr calving interval is advised to farmers from an economical point of view, to realize a yearly peak in milk yield. A 1-yr calving interval, however, implies a yearly event of drying-off, calving and start of lactation, which are all associated with an increased risk for diseases and disorders. Deliberately extending the lactation length by extending the voluntary waiting period (VWP) for first insemination reduces the frequency of these challenging events. This reduction in frequency of calvings can be beneficial for cow health and fertility, but also can be of interest to reduce the number of surplus calves and labor associated with drying off, calving, and disease treatments. Current concerns with respect to an extended lactation are that milk yield is too low in late lactation, which might be associated with an increased risk of fattening of cows in late lactation, and compromised economic returns at herd level. In addition, limited knowledge is available with respect to consequences for cow performance in the subsequent lactation and for calves born to cows with an extended lactation. Moreover, response of dairy cows to an extended VWP depends on individual cow characteristics like parity, milk yield level or body condition. A customized strategy based on individual cow characteristics can be a future approach to select high-producing cows with persistent lactation curves for an extended lactation to limit the risk for fattening and milk yield reduction at the end of the lactation while benefitting from a reduction in challenging events around calving.