An Empirical Analysis on the Longevity of Dairy Cows in Relation to Economic Herd Performance

Imke Vredenberg, Ruozhu Han, Monique Mourits, Henk Hogeveen, Wilma Steeneveld*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Several studies have stated the various effects of an increased dairy cow longevity on economic herd performance, but empirical studies are lacking. This study aimed to investigate the association between longevity of dairy cows and the economic performance of dairy herds based on longitudinal Dutch accounting data. Herd and farm accounting data (n = 855 herds) over the years 2007–2016 were analyzed. Herd data contained yearly averages on longevity features, herd size and several production variables. Longevity was defined as the age of cows at culling and by lifetime milk production of culled cows. Farm accounting data contained yearly averages on revenues, fixed and variable costs of the herds, by which gross margins were defined. Data was analyzed using generalized linear mixed modeling, with gross margin as dependent variable. The independent variables consisted of average age of culled cows, average lifetime production of culled cows, year, herd size, herd intensity (milk production per ha), herd expansion rate, soil type, milking system, successor availability, total full-time equivalent, heifer ratio (% of heifers per cow) and use of outsourced heifer rearing. Herd was included as a random effect to account for the heterogeneity among herds. Descriptive statistics showed that the average age of culled cows was 5.87 (STD = 0.78) years and the average lifetime milk production of culled cows was 31.87 (STD = 7.56) tons per cow with an average herd size of 89 cows (STD = 38.85). The average age of culled cows was stable over the 10 years (variation between 5.79 AND 5.90 years). The gross margin was on average €24.80/100 kg milk (STD = 4.67), with the lowest value in year 2009 and the highest value in year 2013. Gross margin was not significantly associated with age of culled cows and lifetime milk production of culled cows. Variance in longevity between herds was large (STD = 0.78 years) but herds with a higher longevity did not perform economically better nor worse than herds resulting in lower longevity. This indicates that, within current practice, there is potential for improving longevity in order to meet society's concerns on animal welfare and environmental pollution, without affecting the economic performance of the herd.

Original languageEnglish
Article number646672
JournalFrontiers in Veterinary Science
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2021


  • accounting data
  • culling age
  • dairy (cows)
  • economics
  • lifetime milk production
  • longevity


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