Huge hidden costs in Turkish Dairy herds: Fertility related losses

[by Cengiz Yalçın]   Since 2000, most Turkish regions have seen an increase in their number of modern dairy herds with the herd size of between 50 to 15'000 cows. The viability of these herds and the resilience of the livelihoods of the families who own them are very sensitive to unexpected changes in feed and milk prices. When the markets are unfavourable, the Dairy Breeding Unions organises protests with the producers pouring milk into the streets.

For example in 2014, dairy feed concentrate prices rose by 15% in 3 months with no corresponding increase in the prices paid to the producers for their  milk. For a dairy herd with 50 milking cows, it is estimated that this would mean an overall reduction in income of 15,330TL (US$5,896) a year, if feeding levels remained the same. Hence most producers reduced the amont of concentrate fed to their cows, with a subsequent change in milk production. In the worst cases, a significant number of producers suffered such severe losses that they had to stop production.

Since 2014 I have been invited to three dairy herd management symposia in Turkey. In all meetings, I expressed my concern around the difficulties they faced with the changing milk and feed prices and my understanding of their reactions to these markets shocks. I also probed them on whether they had had time to assess their awareness on the technical efficiencies of their system. I was particularly keen to know how much the farmers were losing due to unnecessarily high age at first calving and prolonged calving intervals – two critical technical parameters that indicate the level of dairy herd health management.

The Turkish Dairy Breeding Union recommends that the target values for age at first calving are between 24-25 months, and that calving intervals targets are between 375-390 days. Our estimates indicate that a one-day-delay in age at first calving was equivalent to 16 litres of milk and for the calving interval 11 litres (Yalcin, 2000). At 2012 prices this was equivalent to 15.6TL (US$6) and 11.3TL (US$4.3) (Sarıözkan et al., 2012).

A survey of 45 dairy herds in Ankara indicated that the average age at first calving was 27.4 months and the calving interval was 419 days (Yildiz, 2008), both well above the recommended targets. Using this information and 2014 market prices, I calculated that the avoidable annual fertility losses of 50 cow milking herd were as high as 91,665TL (US$35,256) or six times the financial impact of rising feed costs. These hidden costs are huge and yet farmers awareness is not great for something they can manage themselves. Communication of these messages becomes critical in light of the difficulties these people face and the need to find ways to produce food in the face of resource constraints.

Economics can play an important role in highlighting these problems and in turn improving the livelihoods of producers and consumers.


  1. Sarıözkan S, Aral Y, Murat, H, Aydın E, Sarıözkan S. (2012): Süt sığırcılığı işletmelerinde fertilite bozukluklarından kaynaklanan finansal kayıpların hesaplanması Ankara Üniv Vet Fak Derg, 59, 55-60, 201
  2. Yalçın C 2000: Süt sığırcılığında infertiliteden kaynaklanan mali kayıplar. Lalahan Hayvancılık Araştırma Enstitüsü Dergisi 40 (1), 39–47.
  3. Yıldız A Ş 2008: Ankara Damızlık Sığır Yetiştiricileri Birliği’ne Bağlı Süt Sığırcılığı İşletmelerinde Bazı Endemik Hastalıkların İşletme Düzeyinde Meydana Getirdiği

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