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Keeping dairy cows for longer: a critical literature review on dairy cow longevity in high milk-producing countries
* 1 , 1 , 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 1
1  Department of Animal Science, McGill University, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, H9X 3V9, Canada
2  Department of Health Management, Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, C1A 4P3, Canada
3  Lactanet, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, H9X 3R4, Canada
4  Département des Sciences Animales, Université Laval, Québec, Québec, G1V 0A6, Canada


The ability of dairy farmers to keep their cows for longer could positively enhance the economic performance of the farms, reduce the environmental footprint of the milk industry, and overall help in justifying a sustainable use of animals for food production. However, there is little published on the current status of cow longevity and we hypothesized that a reason may be a lack of standardization and an over narrow focus of the longevity measure itself. The objectives of this critical literature review were: 1) to review metrics used to measure dairy cow longevity in order to determine those most commonly employed; 2) to describe the status of longevity in high milk-producing countries. Current metrics are limited to either the length of time the animal remains in the herd or if it is alive at a given time. To overcome such a limitation, dairy cow longevity should be first defined as an animal having an early age at first calving and a long productive life spent in profitable milk production. Combining age at first calving, length of productive life, and margin over all costs would provide a more comprehensive evaluation of longevity by covering both early life conditions and the length of time the animal remains in the herd once it starts to contribute to the farm revenues, as well as the overall animal health and quality of life. In addition, this review confirms that dairy cow longevity has decreased in most high milk-producing countries over time and its relationship with milk yield is not straight forward. Increasing cow longevity by reducing involuntary culling would cut health costs, increase cow lifetime profitability, improve animal welfare, and could contribute towards a more sustainable dairy industry while optimizing dairy farmers’ efficiency in the overall use of resources available.

Keywords: Animal use; Animal welfare; Cow longevity; Productive lifespan; Profitability; Sustainability