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Reasons and risk factors for beef calf and youngstock on-farm mortality in extensive cow-calf herds

  • K. Mõtus (a1), A. Viltrop (a1) and U. Emanuelson (a2)

Abstract

Raising calves and youngstock is an essential part of beef production. High on-farm mortality (unassisted death and euthanasia) is a consequence of poor animal health and welfare, and is economically unfavourable. The present study aimed to identify the reasons and risk factors for beef calf and youngstock on-farm mortality, using registry data for the years 2013 to 2015. Cox regression models were applied for the data of four age groups: calves up to 30 days (n=21 075), calves 1 to 5 months (n=21 116), youngstock 6 to 19 months (n=22 637) and youngstock ⩾20 months of age (n=9582). We found that dystocia, small birth weight and older parity of the mother increased the mortality hazard in calves up to 30 days of age. A summer birth was a common protective factor against mortality for calves up to 30 days and calves 1 to 5 months of age, compared with birth in other seasons. Among calves 1 to 5 months old, being the offspring of a first-parity cow was associated with significantly higher risk of death compared with calves who were the offspring of third- or higher-parity cows. A high herd-level stillbirth rate was associated with higher mortality hazard. The most commonly reported reasons for calf mortality were digestive disorders and respiratory disease. According to the models of youngstock from 6 months of age, male sex was a risk factor for mortality. Cattle having more than 10% dairy breed experienced a higher mortality risk in the ⩾20 months age group. No significant differences were found across regions, herd size or different breeds in any of the calf or youngstock groups. Metabolic and digestive disorders, as well as traumas and accidents, were the most common causes of mortality in beef youngstock older than 6 months. We can conclude that in young calves, animal-level factors associated with calving had a high impact on mortality. Further, timing calving for the warmer spring months would benefit calf survivability. Further studies including complementary information about farm factors adapted across the whole youngstock period is highly needed to provide sound recommendations in reducing on-farm mortality.

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Reasons and risk factors for beef calf and youngstock on-farm mortality in extensive cow-calf herds

  • K. Mõtus (a1), A. Viltrop (a1) and U. Emanuelson (a2)

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