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Calf management practices and associations with herd-level morbidity and mortality on beef cow-calf operations

  • C. F. Murray (a1), L. J. Fick (a1), E. A. Pajor (a1), H. W. Barkema (a1), M. D. Jelinski (a2) and M. C. Windeyer (a1)...


The objective of this study was to investigate calf management practices on beef cow-calf operations and determine associations with herd-level morbidity and mortality of pre-weaned calves. A 40-question survey about management practices, morbidity and mortality was administered to cow-calf producers by distributing paper surveys and by circulating an online link through various media. A total of 267 producers completed the survey. Data were analyzed with descriptive statistics and multivariable linear regression models. Average herd-level treatment risk for pre-weaning calf diarrhea (PCD) and bovine respiratory disease (BRD) were 4.9% and 3.0%, respectively. Average herd-level mortality within the first 24 h of life (stillbirth), from 1 to 7 days and 7 days to weaning were 2.3%, 1.1%, and 1.4%, respectively. Operations that never intervened at parturition had 4.7% higher PCD than those that occasionally did. On operations using small elastrator bands for castration, PCD was 1.9% higher than those using other methods. For every increase of 100 cows in herd size, BRD decreased by 1.1%. The association between BRD and PCD varied by when calving season began. Operations that used off-farm, frozen colostrum had a 1.1% increase in stillbirths. Operations that verified a calf had suckled had 0.7% lower mortality from 1 to 7 days of age. Those that intervened when colostrum was abnormal or that used small elastrator bands for castration had 1.9% and 1.4% higher mortality during the 1st week of life, respectively, compared with other operations. Mortality from 7 days to weaning was lower by 0.7% when calving season started in April compared with January or February and was higher by 1.0% for each additional week of calving season. Operations that intervened with colostrum consumption for assisted calvings had lower mortality from 7 days to weaning by 0.8% compared with those that did not. For every 1.0% increase in BRD, mortality from 7 days to weaning increased by 1.0%. Stillbirths and mortality from 7 days to weaning decreased non-linearly with herd size. Factors related to calving season, herd size, interventions at calving, colostrum management and castration impacted herd-level morbidity and mortality. However, effect size was generally small and causation cannot be determined with a cross-sectional study design. This study identifies several common health management practices associated with calfhood morbidity and mortality that should be further investigated to establish evidence-based management strategies to improve the health and survival of beef calves.


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