For seventeen years, Vega a cow from Arbelunda Sörgård farm based on the island of Öland in Sweden delivered 25kg of milk every day of her life. That amounts to some 156 tonnes of milk; a figure in the region of 500% more than the average lifetime yield of a dairy cow in even the most productive countries.
But Vega was no exception. The same farm currently has another cow, Docka, who has already delivered some 70 tons of milk, has calved six times and shows no signs of stopping. "There is no secret to what we have done," says Kerstin Persson, owner at Arbelunda Sörgård. "I think we just understood very early the importance of animal health and welfare. They need to have a nice life and when they do, then we do too," she says.
What this farm is doing extremely well is taking a very holistic view of calf and cow care by ensuring a healthy and happy cow throughout her entire lifetime. Vega's long, productive and happy life can be categorised into four main factors.
- She had a beautiful calf hood. She was young and well developed as a first calver. She was treated and cared for from the moment of birth.
- All her feeding over the transition periods from pregnancy to delivery and into lactation were excellent, not just the first one but every time.
- She was able to get pregnant quite rapidly after calving
- In order to calf quickly, she needed to be fertile and healthy. She had no severe diseases such as mastitis and no lameness.
"Farms like this one are important for the future of the industry," says Dairy Development Director at DeLaval Charlotte Hallén Sandgren. "We are very committed to sustainable food production. When you work from a sustainability standpoint then extending the lifetime of the cow is an important aspect. It lets you do more with less and at the same time improves animal welfare for the cows in your herd because there's no point getting your cows older if you don't take care of them. If you don't meet their needs then you will have problems getting them older anyway. But if you treat them well, they will have a happier lifetime and produce more."
It's also a profitable move. DeLaval has calculated that a herd of 100 cows will earn an extra 12000 euros per year if an extra lactation cycle is added to every cow. The calculation is based on lower costs due to less numbers of heifers being raised and higher milk yield from elderly cows. Other studies show that another benefit is that if only the best heifers are bred then the genetic improvement increases these numbers even further.
For farmers, there are additional benefits to ensuring happy healthy cows. "It means that we can plan a trip to the cinema without having to worry about a cow that is sick because we simply make sure they're all healthy. We win on several fronts," adds Kerstin Persson.