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J Dairy Sci. 2007 Apr;90(4):1751-60.

Impacts of dystocia on health and survival of dairy calves.

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USDA: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: Veterinary Services, Centers for Epidemiology and Animal Health, 2150 Centre Ave., Bldg. B, Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117, USA.


The objectives of this study were to determine incidence of stillbirths and heifer-calf morbidity and mortality, and their association with dystocia on 3 Colorado dairies. A total of 7,380 calvings produced 7,788 calves on 3 Colorado dairy operations between October 1, 2001, and November 5, 2002. Dystocia score and calf status (alive vs. dead) were recorded at calving. Calves that were born alive, but died before 24 h of age, also were recorded as stillborn. Heifer calves were monitored for 120 d to evaluate morbidity and mortality. More than half (51.2%) of calves born to primiparous dams, compared with 29.4% of calves born to multiparous dams, required assistance during calving. A larger percentage of bull calves (40.0%) required assistance compared with heifer calves (33.0%). Proportion of stillborn calves was 8.2% overall, with bull calves, twin calves, calves born to primiparous dams, and those born to dams having dystocia having a larger stillbirth percentage compared with heifer calves, singletons, calves born to multiparous dams, and unassisted calvings, respectively. Multiple logistic regression models were constructed to evaluate stillbirths and heifer health while accounting for the clustering of calves within dairy. The models included dystocia score, parity, and season of calving as explanatory variables for heifer events and also calf gender, and single or twin birth for the stillbirth models. Heifer calves born to dams having severe dystocia had greater odds of stillbirth [odds ratio (OR) = 20.7] and treatment of respiratory disease (OR = 1.7), digestive disease (OR = 1.3), and overall heifer mortality (OR = 6.7). Calf gender and dam parity interacted with calving ease to affect stillbirths. For calves having severe dystocia, heifer calves and calves born to multiparous dams were at increased risk of stillbirth compared with bull calves and calves born to primiparous dams, respectively. Survival analysis demonstrated that severe dystocia was associated with stillbirths and deaths up to 30 d of age. Relatively simple interventions have the potential to significantly reduce the impact of dystocia on calf mortality and morbidity on dairy farms. Education of farm management and personnel in strategies to reduce dystocia and its effect on calf health should be a priority according to the results of this study.

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