The incidence of mortality and culling in Holstein-Friesian heifers from birth through first calving was determined on 19 dairy farms selected from across southern England. The outcome of 1097 calvings was determined. Size (BW, heart girth, crown–rump length and height at withers) and insulin-like growth factor-I concentration of live heifer calves were measured at a mean age of 26 ± 0.7 days (n = 506). Associations between the heifer-level variables and mortality were determined using clustered binary logistic regression. Perinatal mortality (stillbirths and mortality within the first 24 h of birth) of male and female calves was 7.9%. This figure was significantly higher in cases where calving assistance was required (19.1% v. 5.6%, P < 0.001) and in twin births (18.5% v. 7.0%, P < 0.05), and was lower in pluriparous v. primiparous dams (5.6% v. 12.1%, P < 0.01). On average, 6.8% of heifers died or were culled between 1 day and 6 months of age. Low BW at 1 month was associated with reduced subsequent survival up to 6 months. Between 6 months and first calving, a further 7.7% of heifers either died (42%) or were culled (58%); accidents and infectious disease accounted for the majority of calf deaths between 6 and 15 months, whereas infertility (16/450 animals served, 3.5%) was the main reason for culling following the start of the first breeding period. In total, 11 heifers (2.2%) were culled as freemartins; eight at birth and three around service. Overall, 14.5% of liveborn potential replacement heifers died or were culled before first calving.