Comparison of calf morbidity, mortality, and future performance across categories of passive immunity: A retrospective cohort study in a dairy herd

Patrick Crannell, Angel Abuelo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
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Four categories of transfer of passive immunity (TPI) were recently proposed in response to the widespread high preweaning morbidity and mortality risks in calves with adequate TPI when a dichotomous classification was used. Hitherto, however, the risks of preweaning morbidity and mortality and future performance among these TPI categories have not been compared. Thus, the objective of this retrospective cohort study was to compare dairy calf morbidity, mortality, growth until weaning, and reproductive efficiency until first calving among the categories of poor (<5.1 g/dL total protein), fair (5.1-5.7 g/dL), good (5.8-6.1 g/dL), and excellent (>6.2 g/dL) TPI. For this, the records from 4,336 dairy calves (2,272 female, 2,064 male) born January 2014 to April 2017 on a commercial dairy farm in Michigan were analyzed. These calves had been randomly selected for weekly serum total protein determination on calves 2 to 7 d old. Data from both sexes were used to evaluate preweaning health and mortality, whereas only the female's data were used to investigate average daily gain (ADG), reproductive performance, and first-lactation milk yield. For each calf, data regarding disease status, growth, and reproductive parameters were obtained from the farm's software database. Associations of TPI categories with disease events (diarrhea or pneumonia), reproduction indices (age at first insemination, successful insemination, and calving, and number of inseminations), first-lactation milk yield and ADG at weaning were evaluated by survival analysis and mixed models. Compared with calves with excellent TPI, calves in the inferior TPI categories showed increased risk of diarrhea: poor [hazard ratio (HR) = 1.49; 95% CI: 1.22-1.82], fair (HR = 1.32; 95% CI: 1.16-1.51), good (HR = 1.14; 95% CI: 1.02-1.29). However, the risk of pneumonia differed only between the calves in the poor and excellent TPI groups (HR = 1.39; 95% CI: 1.05-1.84). The preweaning mortality risk was also higher in calves with poor TPI (HR = 4.29; 95% CI: 1.98-9.27) compared with excellent TPI. However, mortality risks were not statistically different between calves with fair or good TPI and those with excellent TPI. Similarly, calves with poor TPI had a 64, 55, and 24% lower risk of reaching first insemination, successful insemination, or first calving, respectively. However, there were no differences in ADG, number of inseminations, or first-lactation 305-d mature equivalent milk production across TPI groups. Our results confirm the positive effects of optimal TPI in calf preweaning health and postweaning reproductive efficiency. The 4 proposed categories of TPI can assist in decreasing the incidence of diseases that occur in the first weeks of life (i.e., diarrhea), but their effect on other diseases or future performance might be more limited. Although conducted in one herd, this study can be used to illustrate the effect of TPI on future calf performance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2729-2738
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number4
Early online date21 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


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