Extraordinary health improvement in the Swedish dairy cattle breeding 

By approaching cattle health through breeding as early as the 1980s, the Nordic countries had considerably cut the incidence of diseases. Sweden had 35 cases of sick cows per 100 cows per year in 2001, the number of cases reduced to 20 cases per 100 cows per year in 2016. An outstanding decrease by 41% in 15 years. 

According to the Redogörelse för husdjurs- organisationens Djurhälsovård 2015/2016 (Statement on animal health 2015/2016) from Växa Sverige, the Swedish cooperative owner of VikingGenetics, the calculations of disease incidences are largely based on veterinary reports of disease cases (animal disease data). 

“The declining figures may be due to improved animal health, but they may also be an effect of altered treatment strategies or that a lower proportion of the veterinary cases will be recorded in animal disease data”, Växa states. 

The graph below refers to incidence of diseases such as mastitis, feet and leg diseases, milk fever, retained placenta, and uterus inflammation, assistance while calving among others for the control year.

Sweden - Disease incidence per 100 cow / year (2001-2016)

Less Mastitis cases equals less use of antibiotics

During the last 10 years, breeding for less mastitis has given good results for the Swedish farmers. This reduction is considered a big step on the modern dairy farms, since mastitis is the most frequent infectious disease, and accounts for most of the doses of antibiotics given to dairy cows around the world. According to the information collected by Växa, from 16 cases of mastitis per 100 cows per year reported in 2006, the number of incidences decreased to nine cases, which means a reduction of incidences by 44%. 

Number of mastitis incidences per 100 cows per year 2006 vs. 2016
Dairy cows in Sweden also have remarkable hoof health, meaning considerable re-ductions on incidence in diseases such as sole ulcer, sole hemorrhage, digital dermatitis,  interdigital dermatitis, verrucous dermatitis, interdigital hyperplasia, double sole, white line separation and cork screw claw which are included on the index Hoof Health of the Nordic Total Merit (NTM). 

The data from around 267,000 hoof trimmings for all breeds together for 2016 are presented below. 

Hoof trimming data - prevalance of hoof disorders, on cow level. Sweden, 2016.
About 60% of registered hoof trimmings are ‘no disease registered’ / healthy. Around 18% of trimmings have sole hemorrhage, 17% heel horn erosion. Sole ulcer is regis-tered with 4.6% of trimmed cows, while digital dermatitis and interdigital hyperplasia with 4%.

Christian Bengtsson, Breeding specialist for VikingGenetics in Sweden explains that “the Nordic countries have a very strict veterinary regulation regarding the use of antibiotics, with limited access to them, and the dairy industry was forced to find other ways of keeping cows healthy”.  

The case of Sweden is also amazing in terms of the reduction in the use of antibiotics in the past 15 years. The number of antibiotic prescriptions per 100 cows per year has decreased from 24.2 in 2001 to 13.8 in 2015 as shown in the figure below, which means 43% decrease in the number of antibiotic prescriptions during this period. 

Number of antibiotic prescriptions per 100 cow / year
The case of Sweden shows us that breeding for healthy and productive cows is pos-sible. Breeding is a crucial part of successful dairy businesses. Good management and breeding for better health ensure profitability.

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