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Improving growth rates in preweaning calves on dairy farms: A randomized controlled trial

Hyde, Robert M.; Green, Martin J.; Hudson, Chris; Down, Peter M.

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Assistant Professor in Computational Biology

Professor of Cattle Health & Epidemiology

Professor of Dairy Herd Health and Production

Peter M. Down


Previous research has identified key factors associated with improved average daily gain (ADG) in preweaning dairy calves and these factors have been combined to create a web app–based calf health plan ( A randomized controlled trial was conducted to determine the effect of implementing this evidence-based calf health plan on both productivity and health outcomes for calves reared on British dairy farms. Sixty dairy farms were randomized by location (North, South, and Midlands) to either receive the plan at the beginning (INT) or after the end of the trial (CON) and recorded birth and weaning weights by weigh tape, and cases of morbidity and mortality. Calf records were returned for 3,593 calves from 45 farms (21 CON, 24 INT), with 1,760 calves from 43 farms having 2 weights recorded >40 d apart for ADG calculations, with 1,871 calves from 43 farms born >90 d before the end of the trial for morbidity and mortality calculations. Associations between both intervention group and the number of interventions in place with ADG were analyzed using linear regression models. Morbidity and mortality rates were analyzed using beta regression models. Mean ADG was 0.78 kg/d, ranging from 0.33 to 1.13 kg/d, with mean rates of 20.12% (0–96.55%), 16.40% (0–95.24%), and 4.28% (0–18.75%) for diarrhea, pneumonia, and mortality. The INT farms were undertaking a greater number of interventions (9.9) by the end of the trial than CON farms (7.6). Mean farm ADG was higher for calves on INT farms than CON farms for both male beef (MB, +0.22 kg/d) and dairy heifer (DH, +0.03 kg/d) calves. The MB calves on INT farms had significantly increased mean ADG (0.12 kg/d, 95% confidence interval: 0.02–0.22) compared with CON farms. No significant differences were observed between intervention groups for morbidity or mortality. Implementing one additional intervention from the plan, regardless of intervention group, was associated with improvements in mean ADG for DH calves of 0.01 kg/d (0.01, 0–0.03) and MB calves of 0.02 kg/d (0.00–0.04). Model predictions suggest that a farm with the highest number of interventions in place (15) compared with farms with the lowest number of interventions in place (4) would expect an improvement in growth rates from 0.65 to 0.81 kg/d for MB, from 0.73 to 0.88 kg/d for DH, a decrease in mortality rates from 10.9% to 2.8% in MB, and a decrease in diarrhea rates from 42.1% to 15.1% in DH. The calf health plan tested in this study represents a useful tool to aid veterinarians and farmers in the implementation of effective management interventions likely to improve the growth rates, health, and welfare of preweaning calves on dairy farms.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 27, 2021
Online Publication Date Nov 9, 2021
Publication Date 2022-01
Deposit Date Feb 7, 2022
Publicly Available Date Feb 8, 2022
Journal Journal of Dairy Science
Print ISSN 0022-0302
Electronic ISSN 1525-3198
Publisher American Dairy Science Association
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 105
Issue 1
Pages 782-792
Keywords Genetics; Animal Science and Zoology; Food Science
Public URL
Publisher URL


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