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Longevity and herd turnover rate are becoming common topics of discussion as the dairy industry strives for continuous improvement in efficiency, profitability, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability. Having the most productive animal fill each slot on a dairy makes strategic replacement and the resulting herd turnover an important tool for producers. Dairy operations can be considered to have slots available to be occupied by cows. The number of slots available is governed by dairy characteristics including parlor size and facility design. With sustainability and profitability goals, producers should aim to fill each slot with the most productive animal. The advantages of a modest surplus of replacement heifers allowing for a higher herd turnover rate are examined and shown to improve herd profitability, enhance welfare, and reduce environmental impact. A model assuming constant demand for dairy foods is presented with increased herd turnover rate leading to more milk production per cow and reduced enteric methane emissions. This analysis demonstrates that all else being equal, raising more replacements (having a relatively higher herd turnover rate and decreased herd-level longevity) improves sustainability compared to management aimed at lower herd turnover rates. Understanding the drivers of herd turnover in dairy production has important implications for the components of one health: animal well-being, food production, and environmental stewardship. The present work examines one tool toward this goal, while the companion Currents in One Health by Nguyen et al, JAVMA, January 2023, takes a broader view of many aspects of dairy sustainability.

Open access
in American Journal of Veterinary Research