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A cohort study risk factor analysis for endemic disease in pre-weaned dairy heifer calves

Johnson, K. F., Chancellor, N. and Wathes, D. C. (2021) A cohort study risk factor analysis for endemic disease in pre-weaned dairy heifer calves. Animals, 11 (2). e378. ISSN 2076-2615

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To link to this item DOI: 10.3390/ani11020378


Dairy heifer calves experience high levels of contagious disease during their preweaning period, which may result in poor welfare, reduced performance or mortality. We determined risk factors for disease in a cohort study of 492 heifers recruited from 11 commercial UK dairy farms. Every animal received a weekly examination by a veterinarian from birth to nine weeks using the Wisconsin scoring system. Multivariable models were constructed using a hierarchical model with calf nested within farm. Outcome variables for each disease included a binary outcome (yes/no), disease duration and a composite disease score (CDS) including both severity and duration. Diarrhoea, bovine respiratory disease (BRD) and umbilical disease were recorded in 48.2%, 45.9% and 28.7% of calves, respectively. A higher heifer calving intensity in the week of birth reduced the CDS for diarrhoea, with a marginal benefit of improved passive transfer (serum immunoglobulin G (IgG) measured at recruitment). The CDS for BRD was reduced by housing in fixed groups, higher mean temperature in month of birth, increasing milk solids fed, increasing IgG, and higher plasma IGF-1 at recruitment. Conversely, higher calving intensity and higher temperature both increased the CDS for umbilical disease, whereas high IGF-1 was again protective. Although good passive transfer reduced the severity of BRD, it was not significant in models for diarrhoea and umbilical disease, emphasising the need to optimise other aspects of management. Measuring IGF-1 in the first week was a useful additional indicator for disease risk.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development > Department of Animal Sciences > Animal, Dairy and Food Chain Sciences (ADFCS)- DO NOT USE
ID Code:96034
Uncontrolled Keywords:calf, heifer, dairy, diarrhoea, bovine respiratory disease, umbilical disease, colostrum, milk, IGF-1


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