Factors associated with morbidity, mortality, and growth of dairy heifer calves up to 3 months of age

M. C. Windeyer, K. E. Leslie, S. M. Godden, D. C. Hodgins, K. D. Lissemore, S. J. LeBlanc

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

351 Scopus citations


Calfhood disease is an important problem on many dairy operations that can have substantial effects on heifer survival and productivity, and has economic and welfare impacts. Neonatal calf diarrhea (NCD) and bovine respiratory disease (BRD) are the most common causes of morbidity and mortality in young dairy cattle. The objective of this observational study was to investigate factors associated with the risks of morbidity and mortality, and with growth, in commercial dairy heifers calves. A total of 2874 heifer calves from 19 commercial dairy farms in Minnesota and Ontario were enrolled at 1-7 days of age and followed for approximately 3 months. Using cut-points of serum total protein of 5.2 and 5.7. g/dl, the incidences of failure of transfer of passive immunity (FTPI) were 11 and 32%, respectively. A cut-point of 5.7. g/dl was the most predictive of BRD before 5 weeks of age (sensitivity. =. 40%, specificity. =. 69%). The positive predictive value was poor (PPV. =. 18%), but the negative predictive value was good (NPV. =. 87%). A cut-point of 5.2. g/dl was most predictive of death before 5 weeks of age (sensitivity. =. 27%, specificity. =. 89%, PPV. =. 5%, NPV. =. 98%). Serum total protein during the first week of life was a poor predictor of NCD. Over 23% of calves were treated for diarrhea. Risk factors were weight at enrollment, other diseases before 2 weeks of age, and an interaction between season of birth and herd-level incidence of NCD. Almost 22% of calves were treated at least once for BRD. Factors associated with an increased risk of BRD included herd-level incidence of BRD, season of birth, navel dipping, other diseases before 2 weeks of age, failure of transfer of passive immunity, and manual control of temperature in pre-weaning housing. Administration of supplemental antibody products at birth was associated with a reduced incidence of BRD. Overall mortality was 3.5%. Risk of mortality was increased by treatment for BRD and other diseases. The mean average weight gain was 0.95. kg/day (range: 0.11-1.62. kg/day; SD. =. 0.2). Twinning status, FTP, treatment for NCD or other diseases, and month of birth influenced body weight. This study illustrated relationships among various diseases, mortality, and growth. Furthermore, it demonstrated the importance of colostrum for protection against BRD and improved growth performance, while bringing into question the optimal method of determining failure of transfer of passive immunity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-240
Number of pages10
JournalPreventive Veterinary Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by Pfizer Animal Health (Kirkland, QC, Canada). Study sponsors were involved in the study design, but did not participate in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data, writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to submit the manuscript for publication. The authors thank the participating dairy producers and their staff for their involvement, as well as all the research technicians for their assistance. Appendix A


  • Dairy calf
  • Growth
  • Morbidity
  • Mortality
  • Risk factors
  • Transfer of passive immunity


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