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Predicting health outcomes and sale price of male dairy calves undergoing long distance transportation Wilson, Devon


Male dairy calves are often marketed at a young age when they are vulnerable to health and welfare problems. This study described the condition of male dairy calves before transportation and evaluated factors associated with selling price at an auction market and health outcomes at two calf-rearing facilities (calf growers). Male calves were evaluated at their dairy farm of origin, at an auction market, and after long-distance transportation to a calf grower. Measures of calf condition included a standardized health examination, age, heart girth circumference (HG), and serum total protein as an indication of failure of transfer of passive immunity (FTPI). Selling price at the auction, and treatments for diarrhea or bovine respiratory disease (BRD), along with all mortalities, were recorded during the first 2 wk after arrival at a calf grower. A McNemar Test was used to determine if health deteriorated after transportation and regression analysis was used to evaluate the effects of calf condition on selling price and health outcomes. Large variation in calf condition before transportation was found among dairy farms, with a median prevalence of 17% diarrhea, 2% BRD, 9% navel disease, and 12% FTPI. Calves were transported at a median (interquartile range) age of 5 (3-7) d, with a mean ± SD heart girth circumference of 82 ± 4 cm. Calves observed at auction market with beef genetics that had a large HG and bright, alert attitude sold for a higher price. Immediately after transportation to the calf grower, a greater proportion of calves had an elevated body temperature and a lower proportion had diarrhea, possibly due to dehydration. Calves with FTPI were more likely to develop a depressed attitude after transportation. In the first 2 wk after arrival, 23% of calves were treated for diarrhea, 44% were treated for BRD, and 3.9% died. Important risk factors for diarrhea treatment included small HG and navel disease, and calves with a depressed attitude were more likely to die. These findings indicate there is a need for improvement in the condition of male dairy calves to protect their health and welfare and increase their economic value.

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