Impacts of prepubertal rearing intensity and calf health on first lactation yield and lifetime performance
The objective of the present study was to investigate possible long-term effects of calf and heifer feeding intensity on first-lactation milk yield and lifetime efficiency (milk per day of life). Detailed records from a total number of 2,252 female German Holstein calves from one commercial farm were obtained from birth to culling. Data regarding all information about calf’s birth, rearing time until first insemination, first calving, first-lactation yield and lifetime performance were collected over a 12-year period. This large data volume was merged, handled, checked for plausibility, classified and evaluated. Analyses revealed that body weight at an age of six months was significantly influenced by the average daily gain in the first two weeks of life (P<0.0001) and by the duration of treatment for respiratory diseases (P=0.0080). Moreover, first-lactation yield was affected by average daily gain in the whole first year of life (P=0.0013) and particularly in the period of month nine to twelve (P=0.00187). Lifetime efficiency was significantly influenced by body weight at first insemination (P=0.0051), average milk yield (P<0.0001) and reason for culling (P<0.0001). The results of this long-term study confirm that growth is important in general, but as shown by the negative correlation between average daily gain from month nine to twelve and the first lactation milk yield, nutrient intake (energy and protein) should be adapted to enable a controlled growth especially at certain periods of life. After six months of age, daily gain has to be controlled to avoid fat accumulation for a healthy and effective start of lactation. In addition, this analysis revealed that after passing first lactation, particularly health and fertility are the keys for a long efficient lifetime of dairy cows.