Title: Loss of female dairy calves from birth to freshening
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00091659/00001
 Material Information
Title: Loss of female dairy calves from birth to freshening
Alternate Title: Dairy science mimeo report DY71-2 ; Florida Agricultural Experiment Station
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Rivers, L. Jr.
Wilcox, C. J.
Publisher: Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: September 1, 1971
Copyright Date: 1971
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00091659
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: 317406712 - OCLC

Table of Contents
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Full Text

F 4-3 /-*T

Gainesville, Florida

Dairy Science Mimeo Report DY71-2
September 1, 1971


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

milking herd.

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

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-

cede pneumonia.

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

mostly freemartins.

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-

ical period.



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.


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

Born dead


Died within 3 days


General unthriftiness

Injury or accident

Reproductive failure


Total lost

Total freshening

Grand total


















413 (

743 (


aIncludes all births, 1929-68.

bValues in parentheses are percentages lost o'-- -r'Jhening for each
for total.

breed and

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.












42 (29

102 (71




















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
40% 60%

1939-48 88 165 253
35% 65%

1949-58 159 229 388
41% 59%

1959-68 99 250 349
28% 72%

Total 413 743 1156
36% 64%

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
28% 72%

Holsteins 39 127 166
23% 77%

Guernseys 34 69 103
33% 67%

Total 172 446 618
28% 72%

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




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.

Literature Cited

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
Dairyman. 115:1044.

19. Woelffer, E. A. 1970. "Lung Diseases Can Be Prevented." Hoard's
Dairyman. 115:160.

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