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J Dairy Sci. 2018 Feb;101(2):1785-1794. doi: 10.3168/jds.2017-13578. Epub 2017 Dec 14.

Calf management risk factors on dairy farms associated with male calf mortality on veal farms.

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Department of Population Medicine, University of Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada.
Department of Population Medicine, University of Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada. Electronic address:


The objective of this cross-sectional herd-level study was to assess the association of calf management practices on source dairy farms with mortality risk on veal farms. From April to October 2016, 52 source dairy farms supplying male calves to 2 veal operations were visited once. A questionnaire was administered that covered all areas of calf management, calves between 1 and 10 d of age were examined using a standardized health scoring system, and blood was taken to evaluate passive transfer of immunoglobulins. The mortality risk for calves from each dairy farm was calculated based on the number of male calves sold from the dairy farm and that died during 2016 at the veal operations. The mean mortality risk was calculated for both veal farms and, based on the veal facility-adjusted mortality risk, dairy farms were classified as high- or low-mortality source farms. Using the information gathered at the 52 source dairy farms, a logistic regression model was used to assess factors associated with being a high-mortality source farm. Suppliers to veal farm 1 had a mean mortality risk of 9.6% and suppliers to veal farm 2 had a mean mortality risk of 4.2%. The lower mortality risk at veal farm 2 was partially influenced by a shorter period of observation. Of the 182 calves examined during the single visit to the source dairy farms, 41% of male calves and 29% of female calves had at least one identifiable health abnormality. The risk of failure of passive transfer on source dairy farms was low, with only 13% of calves tested having <10 mg of IgG/mL of serum. The subset of calves examined at the source dairy farm was not followed prospectively to the veal farms. Using a tube feeder or pail to feed colostrum, bedding male calves on wood shavings or chopped straw at the source dairy farm, and the herd veterinarian not routinely and actively inquiring about the health and performance of calves during regular herd visits were significantly associated with the farm being classified as a high-mortality source dairy farm. Checking the calving pen at an interval of every 3 h or more during the day was associated with a lower probability of being classified as a high-mortality source dairy farm. The results of this study suggest that there are management practices on the source farm that contribute to the risk of mortality on veal farms.


dairy; management practices; mortality; veal farm

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