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Risk factors for bobby calf mortality across the New Zealand dairy supply chain

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-03, 21:59 authored by Alana Boulton, Nikki Kells, Naomi Cogger, Craig Johnson, Cheryl O'ConnorCheryl O'Connor, Jim WebsterJim Webster, Anna Palmer, Ngaio Beausoleil
The objective of this study was to identify risk factors for morbidity and mortality of bobby calves across the whole dairy supply chain in New Zealand. A case-control study was carried out in the 2016 spring calving season. A total of 194 bobby calves, comprising 38 cases (calves that died or were condemned for health or welfare reasons before the point of slaughter) and 156 controls (calves deemed acceptable and presented for slaughter) were included in the study. Case and control calves were selected by veterinarians located at 29 processing premises across New Zealand. Information regarding management of selected calves on-farm, during transport and at the processor was obtained retrospectively via questionnaires administered to supplying farmers, transport operators and processing premises personnel. Associations between management variables and calf mortality (death or condemnation) were examined using multivariable logistic regression models. Factors associated with an increased risk of calf mortality included time in the farm of origin’s calving season, duration of travel from farm to the processor and processing slaughter schedule (same day or next day). Every additional week into the farm’s calving season increased the odds of mortality by a factor of 1.2 (95%CI 1.06, 1.35). Similarly, each additional hour of travel time increased the odds of mortality by a factor of 1.45 (95% CI 1.18, 1.76). Risk of mortality was significantly greater for calves processed at premises with a next day slaughter schedule than those processed at premises with a same day slaughter schedule (OR 3.82, 95% CI 1.51, 9.67). However, when the data set was limited to those cases that died or were condemned in the yards (i.e. excluding calves that were dead or condemned on arrival) the effect of same day slaughter was not significant. In order to reduce bobby calf mortality and morbidity, transport duration should be kept as short as possible and a same day slaughter schedule applied. While these factors can be regulated, New Zealand’s pastoral dairy system means that calves will inevitably be transported for slaughter across several months each spring. Although farm management factors did not apparently influence the risk of mortality in this study, the effect of time in farm’s calving season suggests there may be farm-management related factors that change over the season. This requires further investigation.


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© 2019 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


  • English

Does this contain Māori information or data?

  • No



Journal title

Preventive Veterinary Medicine




Boulton, A. C., Kells, N. J., Cogger, N., Johnson, C. B., O’Connor, C., Webster, J., … Beausoleil, N. J. (2020). Risk factors for bobby calf mortality across the New Zealand dairy supply chain. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 174, 104836. doi:10.1016/j.prevetmed.2019.104836


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