Invited review: A systematic literature review and meta-analysis of mortality and culling in dairy cattle

C. W.R. Compton, C. Heuer, P. T. Thomsen, Tim Carpenter, C. V.C. Phyn, S. McDougall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Dairy industries and individual farmers are concerned about mortality and culling of dairy animals. This is because the timing and fates of animals that exit dairy farms have important animal welfare and economic consequences that reflect the conditions under which they are farmed and the efficiency of their production systems. Reports from a few countries have indicated increased incidence of mortality, and occasionally culling, of dairy animals in recent decades, and these changes have been associated with intensification of production systems. Dairy industries and farmers need benchmarks for culling and mortality against which they can compare themselves, as well as improved understanding of the extent of any change and of any associated factors. We reasoned that a systematic literature review and meta-analysis of scientific articles published between 1989 and 2014 would allow us to determine whether these reports were universal, to quantify any change over time, and to investigate whether production systems or study factors were associated with culling and mortality. From 3,275 articles retrieved from databases and manual searching of cited articles, 118 articles were appraised independently by 2 assessors, and 51 articles representing 54 studies were determined to be eligible for review and meta-analysis. We estimated that both the annual incidence risk (IR) and incidence density of mortality of cows had increased significantly from 0.02 per cow and 2.32 per 100 cow-years, to 0.04 per cow and 3.75 per 100 cow-years, an increase per decade of 0.02 per cow and 1.42 per 100 cow-years, respectively. We also estimated that the annual IR of culling attributed to low production had declined significantly from 0.07 to 0.05 and that the IR of perinatal, but not neonatal, mortality had increased significantly from 0.04 to 0.06 per decade. We found no evidence of change in overall annual IR of culling of cows over time or any association between study design factors and the IR or incidence density of culling or mortality. These findings provide benchmarks for describing culling and mortality, and should encourage farmers and researchers in countries with modern dairy industries to discover and implement management strategies to reduce the animal welfare and economic costs associated with these changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • culling
  • dairy cow
  • dairy replacement
  • mortality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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