Separate housing for one month after calving improves production and health in primiparous cows but not in multiparous cows.
The hypothesis was that dairy cows housed for 1 mo after calving in a separate group with herd mates would produce more milk and would be healthier than cows integrated in a group of all lactating cows immediately after calving. The experiment was conducted with 489 cows in 6 commercial loose-housing dairy herds where cows were randomly selected for treatment (separate housing) or control. Cows selected for treatment were housed for 1 mo after calving in a separate section, and controls were housed in the remaining section of the barn for lactating cows. Data were compared for milk yield, somatic cell count, medical treatments, reproductive performance, culling, mortality, and clinical observation of scores for body condition, leg and udder hygiene, lameness, hock lesions, other cutaneous lesions, vaginal discharge, and condition of the hair coat. The analysis of the effect of separate housing showed that primiparous cows produced more milk [approximately 230 kg of energy-corrected milk from 0 to 305 d in milk (DIM)], whereas multiparous and especially parity 3+ cows produced less milk (approximately 394 kg of energy-corrected milk from 0 to 305 DIM) during the lactation. Separate housing had no effect on mortality or reproductive efficiency. In primiparous cows, the number of medical treatments for ketosis was reduced by separate housing [hazard ratio 0.33, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.13-0.83]. Clinical evaluations showed that separate housing decreased the scores for hock lesions in cows at 0 to 30 DIM (odds ratio 0.41, CI: 0.19-0.91), whereas the scoring of leg cleanliness showed more dirty legs in separated cows at 0 to 30 DIM (odds ratio 3.61, CI: 2.01-6.47) compared with cows integrated into the herd immediately. The body condition score in separated cows was reduced from 0 to 30 DIM (score reduced by 0.16, CI: 0.07-0.25) and from 31 to 60 DIM (score reduced by 0.13, CI: 0.04-0.23) compared with cows integrated immediately. We concluded that separate housing for 1 mo after calving increased milk yield in primiparous cows but not in multiparous cows, which produced less milk. The hypothesis about fewer health problems could only be confirmed with regard to fewer primiparous cows being treated for ketosis.
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