The modernization and intensification of the dairy industry has led to larger herd sizes and higher milk production, both globally and in Austria. Benchmarking allows the monitoring of animal health and welfare as well as the identification of potential for improvement by comparing certain parameters with other farms with similar management environments. Using data from the Austrian routine recording system of various traits of milk production, fertility, and health, farmers and their veterinarians (with the consent of the farmer) can compare farm parameters with detailed data available from their district or state and ensure more efficient herd management. The aim of the present study was to provide an overview of dairy milk production in Austria based on the annual herd health reports and to examine the effects of herd size and milk production on fertility and health parameters. Annual herd health reports from all farms participating in the health monitoring system were considered, and analyses were conducted across breeds. A large variation between farms was observed. The results showed that, based on parameters of milk yield and herd size for the range of farms within this study, it cannot be concluded that these circumstances automatically lead to poor animal health. Farms with very small herd sizes differed significantly from those with larger herd sizes. Overall herd size effects were however small in Austria. Higher milk production based on a single farm does not necessarily cause more health and fertility problems; however, we detected a tendency for an increased risk of fertility, udder, and metabolic diagnoses. An active health management program might result in higher incidence rates for fertility or udder diagnoses, as a veterinary treatment might be economically superior if, for example, the calving interval can be shortened or the somatic cell count can be reduced. The results of the present study showed that it is advisable to use different benchmarks in combination for monitoring health, as well as for deciding on strategies to improve overall herd health management. Animal health reports on Austrian dairy cows are continuously being developed and new parameters integrated.
Keywords: benchmarking dairy farm fertility health monitoring