The majority of dairy heifer calves in the United States are destined to be dairy replacements. However, many dairy heifer and bull calves die before 6 mo of age. Of these calves, about 6% (more than 500,000 calves) die at birth or shortly after (i.e., currently termed “stillbirth”). An additional 6% of dairy heifers die during the preweaning period. Death loss in dairy calves is primarily due to stillbirths, failure to adapt to extrauterine life, and infectious disease processes. The reasons for preweaning heifer calf deaths caused by infectious diseases are generally categorized based on easily recognizable clinical signs such as digestive disease/scours or respiratory disease. Most causes of calf death can be mitigated by appropriate preventive care or well-tailored treatments, meaning that the typical death loss percentage could be decreased with better management. Producers could gather information on the circumstances near birth and at death if they had appropriate guidance on what details to record and monitor. This paper provides recommendations on data to collect at the time of birth (i.e., calf birth certificate data). The recording of these critical pieces of information is valuable in evaluating trends over time in morbidity and mortality events in dairy calves. Ideally, necropsy examination would substantially improve the identification of cause of death, but even without necropsy, attribution of cause of death can be improved by more carefully defining death loss categories in on-farm record systems. We propose a death loss categorization scheme that more clearly delineates causes of death. Recommendations are provided for additional data to be collected at the time of death. Recording and analyzing birth certificate and death loss data will allow producers and veterinarians to better evaluate associations between calf risk factors and death, with the goal of reducing dairy calf mortality.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank the Dairy Herd Improvement Association, Duane Norman from the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding, and the members of the Council's Pursuing Data Quality committee for bringing this discussion to the group. We also would like to thank Elizabeth Atwell, Craig McConnel, and Hirsh Dairy for the on-farm testing and refinement of the proposed death categories.
© 2019 American Dairy Science Association
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- National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS)
- calf birth certificate
- dairy calf mortality
- death loss categorization