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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Factors associated with calf mortality in tropically adapted beef breeds managed in extensive Australian production systems

Kim L. Bunter A B D , David J. Johnston A B , Matthew L. Wolcott A B and Geoffry Fordyce A C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Cooperative Research Centre for Beef Genetic Technologies, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

B Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit1, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

C Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Charters Towers, Qld 4820, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: kbunter2@une.edu.au

Animal Production Science 54(1) 25-36 https://doi.org/10.1071/AN12421
Submitted: 10 December 2012  Accepted: 7 May 2013   Published: 20 August 2013

Abstract

Data from 9296 calves born to 2078 dams over 9 years across five sites were used to investigate factors associated with calf mortality for tropically adapted breeds (Brahman and Tropical Composite) recorded in extensive production systems, using multivariate logistic regression. The average calf mortality pre-weaning was 9.5% of calves born, varying from 1.5% to 41% across all sites and years. In total, 67% of calves that died did so within a week of their birth, with cause of death most frequently recorded as unknown. The major factors significantly (P < 0.05) associated with mortality for potentially large numbers of calves included the specific production environment represented by site-year, low calf birthweight (more so than high birthweight) and horn status at branding. Almost all calf deaths post-branding (assessed from n = 8348 calves) occurred in calves that were dehorned, totalling 2.1% of dehorned calves and 15.9% of all calf deaths recorded. Breed effects on calf mortality were primarily the result of breed differences in calf birthweight and, to a lesser extent, large teat size of cows; however, differences in other breed characteristics could be important. Twin births and calves assisted at birth had a very high risk of mortality, but <1% of calves were twins and few calves were assisted at birth. Conversely, it could not be established how many calves would have benefitted from assistance at birth. Cow age group and outcome from the previous season were also associated with current calf mortality; maiden or young cows (<4 years old) had increased calf losses overall. More mature cows with a previous outcome of calf loss were also more likely to have another calf loss in the subsequent year, and this should be considered for culling decisions. Closer attention to the management of younger cows is warranted to improve calf survival.

Additional keywords: Bos indicus, Bos taurus, calf survival, crossbred, dehorning, environment, maternal.


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