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Quantitative analysis of calf mortality in Great Britain

Hyde, Robert M.; Green, Martin J.; Sherwin, Virginia E.; Hudson, Chris; Gibbons, Jenny; Forshaw, Tom; Vickers, Mary; Down, Peter M.


Robert M. Hyde

Professor of Cattle Health & Epidemiology

Clinical Assistant Professor in Farm Animal Medicine

Jenny Gibbons

Tom Forshaw

Mary Vickers

Peter M. Down


National bodies in Great Britain (GB) have expressed concern over young stock health and welfare and identified calf survival as a priority; however, no national data have been available to quantify mortality rates. The aim of this study was to quantify the temporal incidence rate, distributional features, and factors affecting variation in mortality rates in calves in GB since 2011. The purpose was to provide information to national stakeholder groups to inform resource allocation both for knowledge exchange and future research. Cattle birth and death registrations from the national British Cattle Movement Service were analyzed to determine rates of both slaughter and on-farm mortality. The number of births and deaths registered between 2011 and 2018 within GB were 21.2 and 21.6 million, respectively. Of the 3.3 million on-farm deaths, 1.8 million occurred before 24 mo of age (54%) and 818,845 (25%) happened within the first 3 mo of age. The on-farm mortality rate was 3.87% by 3 mo of age, remained relatively stable over time, and was higher for male calves (4.32%) than female calves (3.45%). Dairy calves experience higher on farm mortality rates than nondairy (beef) calves in the first 3 mo of life, with 6.00 and 2.86% mortality rates, respectively. The 0- to 3-mo death rate at slaughterhouse for male dairy calves has increased from 17.40% in 2011 to 26.16% in 2018, and has remained low ( [less than] 0.5%) for female dairy calves and beef calves of both sexes. Multivariate adaptive regression spline models were able to explain a large degree of the variation in mortality rates (coefficient of determination = 96%). Mean monthly environmental temperature and month of birth appeared to play an important role in neonatal on-farm mortality rates, with increased temperatures significantly reducing mortality rates. Taking the optimal month of birth and environmental temperature as indicators of the best possible environmental conditions, maintaining these conditions throughout the year would be expected to result in a reduction in annual 0- to 3-mo mortality of 37,571 deaths per year, with an estimated economic saving of around £11.6 million (USD $15.3 million) per annum. National cattle registers have great potential for monitoring trends in calf mortality and can provide valuable insights to the cattle industry. Environmental conditions play a significant role in calf mortality rates and further research is needed to explore how to optimize conditions to reduce calf mortality rates in GB.


Hyde, R. M., Green, M. J., Sherwin, V. E., Hudson, C., Gibbons, J., Forshaw, T., …Down, P. M. (2020). Quantitative analysis of calf mortality in Great Britain. Journal of Dairy Science, 103(3), 2615–2623.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 16, 2019
Online Publication Date Jan 15, 2020
Publication Date Mar 1, 2020
Deposit Date Nov 20, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jan 16, 2021
Journal Journal of Dairy Science
Print ISSN 0022-0302
Electronic ISSN 1525-3198
Publisher American Dairy Science Association
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 103
Issue 3
Pages 2615–2623
Keywords Calf mortality; Monitoring; National data
Public URL
Publisher URL


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