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Prevalence of, and risk factors associated with, perinatal calf mortality in pasture-based Holstein-Friesian cows

  • J. F. Mee (a1), D. P. Berry (a1) and A. R. Cromie (a2)


Recent publications indicate that the prevalence of perinatal mortality has increased in some dairy industries and an increased proportion of this loss is not associated with the traditional risk factors for perinatal mortality. The objectives of this study were to establish the prevalence of perinatal mortality (calf death within 24 h of calving) in Irish dairy herds and to determine the current significance of putative risk factors in pasture-based management systems. A total of 182 026 records of full-term calvings from Holstein-Friesian dams served by artificial insemination (AI) sires of seven breeds in herds of 20 calvings or more per year were available from the Irish national breeding database over 4 years (2002 to 2005). The prevalence of perinatal mortality was 4.29% (7.7% in primiparae and 3.5% in pluriparae). The likelihood of perinatal mortality increased between 2002 and 2005 and was greatest in June and in winter. There was an interaction (P < 0.001) between the effect of calving assistance and parity with the effect of dystocia on perinatal mortality being greater in primiparae. The odds of perinatal mortality were greater in male (OR = 1.12; P < 0.001) and in twin calves (OR = 5.70-13.36; P < 0.001) and in dams that had perinatal mortality at the previous calving (OR = 4.21; P < 0.001). The logit of the probability of perinatal mortality increased by 0.099 per unit increase in sire predicted transmitting ability (PTA) for direct perinatal mortality. The probability of perinatal mortality increased at an increasing rate in primiparae as animals calved at a younger age relative to the median age at first calving. The only herd-level factor examined, herd size did not affect the odds of perinatal mortality. These data indicate that the prevalence of perinatal mortality in this cattle population is similar to that in other pasture-based dairy systems worldwide. The putative exposures and attributes traditionally associated with perinatal mortality were associated with perinatal mortality in this pasture-based dairy cow population. The practical implication of these results is that as many of the significant risk factors are largely not under management control (year of calving, month of calving, twin calving, primiparity, previous perinatal mortality and foetal gender), herd owners must focus on the significant determinants under their control (age at first calving, sire genetic merit for direct perinatal mortality and both the extent of calving supervision and the degree of assistance), in order to reduce the prevalence of perinatal mortality and improve perinatal welfare.


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