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Animals 2013, 3(4), 1036-1057;

Why Do So Many Calves Die on Modern Dairy Farms and What Can We Do about Calf Welfare in the Future?

Animal and Bioscience Research Department, Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Teagasc, Moorepark, Fermoy, Co. Cork, Ireland
Received: 11 October 2013 / Revised: 28 October 2013 / Accepted: 28 October 2013 / Published: 4 November 2013
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Future of Farm Animal Welfare)
Full-Text   |   PDF [119 KB, uploaded 4 November 2013]

Simple Summary

High calf loss rates are an international welfare problem though this is often not recognised. These loss rates have increased in recent years. Improvement in calf survival rates is dependent upon re-prioritization of this problem relative to other animal health and welfare issues and creation of awareness of this prioritization. Once the problem is recognised action needs to be taken at national and at farm levels, specifically on problem farms. Data recording, research, breeding, veterinary, extension and farmer organisations all have a role to play in improving bovine neonatal survival and hence improving animal welfare in the future.


Poor bovine neonatal survival rates are an international animal welfare issue. The key modifiable risk factors associated with such loss are age at first calving in primiparae, calf breed, gender and gestation length and calving management. The primary causes of mortality in the perinatal period are calving problems, in particular dystocia, defined as both difficult and abnormal calvings. Calf loss rates are rising on modern dairy farms in many countries internationally. High calf loss rates are often not recognised at national or at farm-level; recording needs to be improved. Improving bovine neonatal survival requires re-prioritization of this issue. Stakeholders need to be made cognisant of this prioritization. Actions to effect change need to occur at both national and farm-levels. National-level actions need firstly to address raising awareness of the issue. Farm-level actions need to focus on identifiable problem farms through targeted surveillance. Application of existing knowledge to alter modifiable risk factors is the key to improving calf welfare in the future. Research also has a role to play in filling knowledge gaps in particular about the ‘unexplained stillbirth’. View Full-Text
Keywords: bovine perinatal mortality; epidemiology; aetiology; animal welfare; re-prioritization bovine perinatal mortality; epidemiology; aetiology; animal welfare; re-prioritization
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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Mee, J.F. Why Do So Many Calves Die on Modern Dairy Farms and What Can We Do about Calf Welfare in the Future? Animals 2013, 3, 1036-1057.

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