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Could keeping female calves with their mothers until weaning improve animal health and future milk production?

By United with Israel Staff

Yotvata dairy farm, a major milk producer in southern Israel, is preparing to test if female calves that remain with their mothers until weaning become healthier cows that produce more milk. The pilot project is the first of its kind. The testing ground will be at the industrial cowshed of Moshav Idan, in the Arava desert, Times of Israel reported.

Generally, calves are separated from their mothers within an hour after birth. Animal rights activists, as well as those in the dairy industry, have long complained that the practice causes distress to mother and calf alike.

Israeli veterinarian Sivan Lacker, head of the Awareness Experiences project, which seeks improvements in the care of farm animals, visited dairies in Europe that leave calves with their mothers after birth to observe first hand the procedure and advise Yotvata. The European dairies, however, are smaller than most in Israel.

That is why Moshav Idan was chosen for the experiment. Even though Yotvata Dairy is one of Israel’s largest producers of dairy products, the cowshed at Moshav Idan has a relatively small number of cows, about 360 cows and around 150 births per year.

“We’re starting it gradually and very much want it to succeed,” Ashkar Genosar, milk receiving and manufacturer relations manager at Yotvata Dairy told the Times. “We think it’s very important and hope that it will work from a health and technical standpoint. There are 23 cowsheds that work with us and when we suggested it to the manager of the Idan cowshed, she was very enthusiastic.”

Calves wean between three to six months after birth. At that time, the farm will be naturally separate the calves from their mothers and join them with a group of calves similar in age.

Though the farm would obviously lose the milk a calf takes from its mother, studies show that the immediate loss builds healthier and stronger cows that ultimately produce more milk, explained Genosar, who hopes that the long-term benefits will outweigh the short term loss.

A consumer research study conducted by Yotvata’s owner Strauss indicated that people care about the welfare of cows on dairy farms. Some consumers avoid farmed milk consumption due to the standard procedures most large farms use to extract milk.