Milk production and survival of spring-calving carryover cows in New Zealand dairy herds : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Animal Science at Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand
Non-pregnant cows are generally culled from dairy herds and replaced with two-year-old heifers. Alternatively, non-pregnant cows can be dried-off at the end of lactation, retained for one year (carried over), before being mated and returned to a milking herd in the following year. In this study, calving interval was used as a tool to identify and define the carryover cow population in spring-calving dairy herds. Linear modelling methods were used to compare carryover cow milk production with that of heifers, lactation-matched and age-matched non-carryover cows. Lastly, the survival for second-lactation carryover cows was compared with that of two-year-old heifers and lactation-matched non-carryover cows. Results showed that annually, 2.5% of spring-calving cows had returned to a milking herd after a carryover period in the previous year. Of those carryover cows, 43% returned to a milking herd at four years old, after failing to conceive in their first lactation. Most (69%) dairy herds contained less than 5% carryover cows and 17% of dairy herds comprised of zero carryover cows. The difference between the proportion of Holstein-Friesian in the carryover cow and non-carryover cow group was minimal (2%) but statistically greater (P<0.01) for the carryover cow group. Estimated breeding values (EBVs) for milk traits (milk yield, fat yield, protein yield and somatic cell count) were greater (P<0.01), but fertility EBVs were lower (P<0.01) for the carryover cow group in the year when they failed to conceive, compared to those for the non-carryover cow group. These were reflected in greater (P<0.01) selection indices (Breeding Worth and Production Worth) for carryover cows. After the carryover period, EBVs for milk traits and fertility decreased, and Breeding Worth was lower (P<0.01) for the carryover cow group, compared to the non-carryover cow group. Carryover cow milk yield, fat yield, protein yield and somatic cell score was greater (P<0.01) than those for heifers, lactation-matched and age-matched non-carryover cows in their first carryover year. This milk production advantage was maintained for up to three carryover years, if the carryover cow maintained an annual calving pattern, but at a decreasing rate. The probability of survival (days) was lower (P<0.01) for second-lactation carryover cows when compared to heifers and lactation-matched non-carryover cows. These findings are important for the New Zealand dairy industry as they can aid on-farm culling (removal from the herd) decisions.