Management practices and risk factors for morbidity and mortality in Minnesota dairy heifer calves

N. J. Sivula, T. R. Ames, W. E. Marsh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


This prospective study involved 845 Holstein heifer calves born during 1991 on 30 dairy farms in southeast Minnesota. The objectives of the part of the study reported here were to examine relationships between management practices and incidence of morbidity and mortality at both herd and individual-calf levels. A survey administered by the investigators identified the herd management practices. Check-off forms completed by cooperating producers captured the individual-calf risk factors. Data collected included events surrounding each calf's birth as well as treatments and disease diagnoses for each heifer calf. Outcomes of interest were any occurrence of enteritis, pneumonia, or death between birth and 16 weeks of age. Time, place and date of birth, ease of birth, colostrum administration and any other treatments at birth, housing and any other treatments were the risk factors of interest. The overall morbidity rate for the study was 0.2 calves treated per 100 calf-days at risk (range 0-0.8, standard deviation 0.2), while the rates for scours and pneumonia were 0.15 cases per 100 calf-days at risk (0-0.7, ±0.2) and 0.10 (0-0.7, ±0.2) cases per 100 calf-days at risk, respectively. The mortality rate for the study period was 0.08 deaths per 100 calf-days at risk (0-0.3, ±0.08); 64 heifers (7.5%) died during the study. Mean average daily weight gains for heifers from birth to 16 weeks of age was 0.82 kg day-1 for all farms (0.45-1.1, ±0.2). In general, stated herd management practices were practiced at the individual-calf level. Several herd management practices altered the outcomes of interest. For example, the feeding of a coccidiostat to preweaned calves increased the herd risk of pneumonia (relative risk, 3.38; 95% CI 1.34-8.50). The feeding of a vitamin A-D-E supplement to preweaned calves exerted a protective effect against scours (0.35, 0.13-0.93). Managing group pens for weaned calves in an 'all-in, all-out' fashion rather than in a continuous flow system contributed to a farm having an average daily rate of gain that was above the median (3.06, 1.34-6.97). The Cox proportional hazards model was used to describe relationships between risk factors and the outcomes of interest. Calves that required assisted delivery were at an increased risk of developing enteritis sooner than those that were born without assistance. No other risk factors had a significant effect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-182
Number of pages10
JournalPreventive Veterinary Medicine
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jul 1996

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The a.uthorsa re grateful for the technical assistancep rovided by Tim Jourdan and Andrew Whyte of the DairyCHAMP researchl aboratory in preparing data for statistical analysis. The authors also thank Dr. Vickie King for her advice on selection and interpretationo f statisticalt ests.T his researchw as supportedi n part by the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station (Project No. 2 1705).


Dive into the research topics of 'Management practices and risk factors for morbidity and mortality in Minnesota dairy heifer calves'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this