F 4-3 /-*T
FLORIDA AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATION
Dairy Science Mimeo Report DY71-2
September 1, 1971
LOSS OF FEMALE DAIRY CALVES FROM BIRTH TO FRES[HEliih!
L. Rivers, Jr. and C. J. Wilcox1
Normal attrition among the 193,."'0' dairy cattle in Florida
requires 50-65,000 replacements annually. These are provided
either by purchase or by raising. Regardless of who raises the
replacements, a certain number of females born fail to enter the
The objectives of the present study were to obtain estimates
of loss of females from birth to freshening in th d Pf rTLRARY
the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station.
DEC 8 1971
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Cornell researchers studied losses of calve fS 'f Flrida
period (16). The number of calves born in good condition that
soon died was not as great as the number of those conceived that
did not start life at all (12% of the conceptions did not result
in normal births). Annual mortality rates of calves being raised
ranged from 3 to 18% with the 10-year average being 11%.
1Research Assistant and Geneticist, respectively.
Adding with this the 12% that died before or at birth gives
an estimate of 23% of the calves conceived that were not
Losses due to disease. Disease as a cause of calf loss
is closely related to heredity, management and nutrition. Dif-
ferences in management systems affect not only predisposition
to disease but also methods of control. The highest incidence
of female death loss under 6 months of age is due to respira-
tory or digestive disturbances. Horton et al. (8) stated that
these two categories accounted for the removal of 7.6% and 4.4%
of the female calves, respectively. These animals were either
born dead or died soon after birth. Infectious diseases claim-
ed 50.1% of all female calves under six months of age in this
study. Calf pneumonia is referred to as a primary type pneu-
monia due to bacterial or viral infection. It is very contagious
but can be reduced by maintaining good ventilation, avoiding mark-
ed fluctuations in temperatures and preventing drafts (19). Many
calves actually die from the digestive disturbances which pre-
Phillips et al. (14) indicated that calf diarrhea was
largely nutritional in origin. They reduced the loss from
scours and pneumonia by feeding large doses of vitamins A and
D, thiamin, riboflavin, nicotinic acid, pantothenic acid and
choline to calves from birth to 4 weeks.
Branton et al. (3) found that the greatest losses occurred
from birth to three months of age and were due primarily to
scours, unthriftiness and pneumonia. Losses due to scours were
considerably higher in Jerseys than in Holsteins (11.7% verses
5.4%). Johnson et al. (9) collected data from post-mortem
examination of 78 calves (mortality rate of 7.24%) which died
prior to age 6 months in the University of Connecticut dairy
herd during 1931-1947. White scours (43.6%), respiratory
diseases (20.5%), bloat (9.0%) and general weakness at birth
(7.7%) were the principal causes of death aside from miscellaneous
conditions which accounted for 19%. A higher incidence of white
scours was observed from August to January.
In 1969 many newborn calves with edema of the lungs and
enlargement of the spleen were reported to Veterinary Scientists
at Texas A & M University (1, 18). This condition is referred to
as a neonatal immunchemolytic anemia and icterus of calves. In
some infected herds 15 to 24% of all newborn calves died from
the disease. Albert and Ramey (1) attributed death to peritonitis
resulting from abomasal perforation.
Breed differences. Calves of certain breeds apparently are
more difficult to raise than others (15). Surveys showed Jersey
losses to be hi.h-r than Holstein losses, for example, the difference
ranging from 2.8 to 6.1%. Postnatal losses for Ayrshires were
between those for Jerseys and Holsteins, but closer to those for
Holsteins. Losses for Guernseys were about the same as for Jerseys.
Johnson and Harpestead (10) obtained data from 1,200 herds on DHiA
representing all breeds and including 949 Holstein Herds. For
the Holstein herds the average loss of female calves under 1
year of age was 13.1%.
Branton et al. (3) found that postnatal losses of female
calves born alive from birth to first calving were 24.9% in
Holsteins and 38.6% in Jerseys. Losses due to reproductive
inefficiency or sterility were 5.5% for Holsteins and 16.1% for
Jerseys. Arnold and Becker (2) in the University of Florida
herd found that failure to conceive and difficult breeding
eliminated 9.6% of breeding-age Jersey heifers. Infertility is
one of the greatest problems or reasons for loss after the female
reaches 6 months of age.
Prenatal losses are a cause of loss for reproductive
failure. Hawk et al. (7) estimated losses from embryonic death
(150 cows) from 10 to 34 days to be 51.7%. Graden et al. (5)
indicated that abnormalities causing fertilization failure were
as follows: ovulation failure, 8.7% of the cows bred; oviduct
obstructions, 6.7%; abnormal ova, 3.3%; ovarian adhesions, 2.0%;
endometritis, 3.3%; lost ova, 17.3%; and unexplained, 24.7%.
McDowell and McDaniel (13) suggested that "from 6 to 18% of all
conceptions result in nonviable abortions or stillbirths and 8 to
24% of the female calves born alive die before reaching 1 year of
age. Additional losses of females from 1 year of age to first
calving range from 7 to 12% due to failure to breed, or death."
Davis (4) reported that abortions in the University of Nebraska
Holstein and Jersey herds were 10.2 and 5.3%, respectively.
Holstein and Ayrshire losses from all causes combined were lower
than Jersey and Guernsey losses.
Twinning. Twinning is fairly common in cattle and there are
several reasons why it is not favored by livestock men. First, twins
are more frequently born dead or are smaller and weaker at
birth. Second, a cow giving birth to twins usually has more
difficulty at parturition and is thus weakened so as to reduce
her production in the following lactation. Third, in the case
of bisexual twins, only about 10% of the females subsequently
Twinning is at least to some extent heritable (15) and occurs
at about 2% of all births (2,8). Wilcox (17) indicated that
about 1% of all females born were mixed-sex twins, hence were
Seasonal differences. Jordii. (11) st.iudied calf losses on
26 farms in Ayrshire, Scotland. About 25% of the calves born in
the spring were lost and about 8% in the autumn. Heaviest losses
were between February and April. Jordan suggested that this was
a reflection of low vitamin levels of late winter and early spring
rations. Losses in early months of the year were attributable
partly to the low vitamin A content of the colostrum of cows
calving in the spring. The role of colostrum in preventing calf
losses is well known according to Grunsell (6).. Calves receiving
colostrum from the pail had a higher mortality than those receiving
it from the dam.
Lovell and Hill (12) reported that mortality in England and
Wales showed some seasonal changes, being higher in the first half
than in the second half of the year. Nearly half the deaths of
female calves took place in the first week of life and three quarters
in the first month. Early post-natal life is clearly the most crit-
METHODS AND PROCEDURES
Available for this study were herd records of the University
of Florida Dairy Research Unit. Records analyzed represented
Jerseys, Guernseys and Holsteins. The data included all females
born between January 1, 1929, and April 3, 1968, thus giving
nearly 40 years of record. The study did not include abortions
or animals that were purchased. Jerseys were the only animals
that covered the entire period; their data were divided into four
10-year periods. Guernseys and Holsteins existed in appreciable
numbers only in the last 10-year period, 1959-1968.
Data were analyzed by chi-square techniques with two
general major comparisons, breed (Jersey, Holstein, Guernsey) and
time (1929-38, 1939-48, 1949-58, 1959-68). Only Jerseys were
included in the time studies; only the last time period was
involved in the breed comparisons.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Reasons for disposal were listed in considerable detail, then
grouped as seemed appropriate into the eight major categories shown
in Table 1. Included under disease were individuals lost for
scours, pneumonia, blackleg, brucellosis, vibriosis and lepto-
spirosis. Standards for culling heifers for reproductive failure
varied over the years, and to some degree within years, but most
heifers were subjected to 10 or more services before being culled.
Included in the miscellaneous category were some losses
which the commercial dairyman might not suffer. Three Holsteins
out of 207 born did not meet color requirements for registration
and several calves died while on research projects. Whether or not
Table 1. Fate of Female Calves from Birth to Fresheninga
Died within 3 days
Injury or accident
aIncludes all births, 1929-68.
bValues in parentheses are percentages lost o'-- -r'Jhening for each
the latter would have died anyway could not: be determined. It was
decided to leave these cases in rather than delete them from the
data. None of the general interpretations of results were affected
by this decision, although the frequencies for the miscellaneous
cases would obviously be affected slightly.
As shown in Table 1, about 5% of all female calves were born
dead, 1% were freemartins, and 2% died within 3 days after birth.
The 167 lost for reproductive failure represented 11% of all female
births. Some 67% entered the dairy herd as milking cows.
360b 44 (21)
61) 163 (79"
Time trends with Jerseys are shown in Table 2. Some improve-
ment in the percentage entering the herd in recent years (1959-68)
can be seen (P<0.01). Values ranged from 59 to 65% (average 61%)
for the first 30 years and increased to 72% during the last 10
years. This improvement was due primarily to considerably reduced
losses from reproductive failure. There was no change in the
proportion of calves born dead or dying prior to 3 days of age.
Table 2. Time trends with Jerseys1
Period Lost Freshening Total
1929-38 66 100 166
1939-48 88 165 253
1949-58 159 229 388
1959-68 99 250 349
Total 413 743 1156
iVariability in period trends significant (P<0.01).
There were slight differences between breeds in the propor-
tion entering the herd during the last 10 years, but with the
number of cases involved the differences were not statistically
significant (Table 3). The average losses for Guernseys and
Jerseys combined, and Holsteins, were 29 and 23%, however, which
agrees with other research studies. Examination of the specific
reasons for loss showed the frequency of calves born dead to be
lower for Jnrseys and Guernseys (5.5%) than for Holsteins (9.6%).
Table 3. Breed Comparisons (1959-68)1
Breed Lost Freshening Total
Jerseys 99 250 349
Holsteins 39 127 166
Guernseys 34 69 103
Total 172 446 618
Neither of two orthogonal
or Jerseys, Guernseys vs.
comparisons (Jerseys vs. Guernseys,
Holsteins) were significant, P>0.10.
There were no appreciable breed differences for any other-
specific cause of loss except for reproductive failure. LosseF
were higher for Guernseys and Jerseys (11.5%) than for Holste"ns
(4.2%). Whether these are true breed differences or are ca' "dn
by some systematic unknown bias cannot be determined. To tl
best knowledge of the herd managers, animals of each breed jwe
given equal opportunity to conceive before being culled for
reproductive failure. Generally heifers of breeding age were main-
tained in the same lots regardless of breed during the time period
SULMARY AND CON'CLUSIOM.S
Analysis of 1507 dairy calf birth records for.the period
1929-68 showed that 67% entered the dairy herd as milking cows.
Causes of loss were: born dead, 5%; freemartins, 1%; died within
3 days, 2%; disease, 5%; general unthriftiness, 4%; injury or
accident, 2%; reproductive failure, 11%; miscellaneous, 4%.
Losses in recent years in the Jersey herd, which existed for the
entire 40 years, were reduced from 39% during the first 30 years
to 28% during the last 10 years. This improvement primarily
resulted from reduced losses from reproductive failure.
Comparisons of Guernsey, Jersey and Holstein losses during
the last 10 years showed that Holsteins had higher rates of
dead births than Guernseys and Jerseys combined (9.6% vs. 5.5%)
but lower rates of loss from reproductive failure (4.2% vs. 11.5%).
Overall losses were 23% and 29%, respectively.
Based on past experience, the values reported here will seem
high to many dairymen who raise their own replacements. Since
these results agree well with other published reports, however, it
may be that dairymen who raise their own replacements are under-
estimating their losses. A higher frequency of Holsteins entering
the herd, compared to Guernseys and Jerseys, was noted and, although
it was not statistically significant, it agreed with other published
reports. This was not due to losses in early life, however, as
commonly supposed by many dairymen, but rather to fewer losses with
Holsteins for reproductive failure.
With the loss of 28% of all calves (21% of single live births),
there appears still to be ample room for improvement.
1. Albert, F. and D. B. Ramey. 1967. "Abomasal Torsion and Ulceration
in Two Calves." American Vet. Med. Assoc. 150:408.
2. Arnold, P. T. D. and R. B. Becker. 1953. "Dairy Calves, Their
Development and Survival." Fla. Agr. Exp. Sta. Bul. 529.
3. Branton, C., D. L. Evans, and J. W. Thomas. 1969. "Prenatal,
Perinatal, and Post-natal Losses in Holstein and Jersey Cattle."
J. Dairy Sci. 52:555.
4. Davis, H. P. 1952. "Dairy Calf Births and Dispcsala." Nebr. Agr.
Exp. Sta. Eul. 411,
5. Graden, A. P., D. Olds, C. R. Mochow, and L. R. Mutter. 1968.
"Causes of Fertilization Failure in Repeat Ereeding Cattle."
J. Dairy Sci. 51:778.
6. Grunsell, C. S. 1956. "Mortality and Morbidity in Calves." Vet.
Record. p. 788.
7. Hawk, H. W., J. N. Wiltbank, H. E. Kidder, and L. E. Casida. 1955,
"Embryonic Mortality Between 16 and 34 Days'Postbreeding in Cows
of Low Fertility." J. Dairy Sci. 38:673.
8. Horton, O. H., O. T. Stallcup, and J. M. Rakes. 1960. "Dairy Cattle
Losses and Disposals." Ark. Agr. Exp. Sta. Bul. 623.
9. Johnson, R. E., E. L. Junghern, and W. W. Plastridge. 1948. "Calf
Losses in a Self-contained Herd Over a Period of Seventeen Years."
J. Dairy Sci. 31:669.
10. Johnson, R. V. and G. W. Harpestad. 1970. "Calf Losses in Illinois
Dairy Herd Improvement Herds." J. Dairy Sci. 53:684.
11. Jordan, L. 1933. Vet. J. 89:202. Cited in Reference 17.
12. Lovell, R. and A. B. Hill. 1940. "A Study of Mortality Rates of
Calves in 335 Herds in England and Wales Together with Some Limited
Observations for Scotland." J. Dairy Res. 11:225.
13. McDowell, R. E. and B. T. McDaniel. 1968. "Interbreed Mating in
Dairy Cattle: II. Herd Health and Viability." J. Dairy Sci.
14. Phillips, P. H., N. S. Zundquist, and P. D. Doyer. 1941. "The Effect
of Vitamin A and Certain Members of the B-Complex upon Calf Scours."
J. Dairy Sci. 24:997.
15. "Prenatal and Postnatal Mortality in Cattle." 1968. National Academy
of Sciences, Washington, D. C.
16. Savage, E. S. and C. M. McKay. 1942. "The Nutrition of Calves; A
Review." J. Dairy Sci. 25:595.
17. Wilcox, C. J. 1964. "Dairy Calf Losses." Fla. Field Report 3 (49):4B.
18. Woelffer, E. A. 1970. "A New Calf Disease is Discovered." Hoard's
19. Woelffer, E. A. 1970. "Lung Diseases Can Be Prevented." Hoard's