A retrospective cohort study comparing dairy calf treatment decisions by farm personnel with veterinary observations of clinical signs.


Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman 99164. Electronic address: [Email]


Antimicrobials are frequently administered to calves with diarrhea, despite evidence suggesting questionable efficacy. Even if efficacious, providing the appropriate therapy to an animal requires accurate disease detection. The objective of this study was to use previously collected data and compare clinical scoring by a veterinarian to treatment decisions by on-farm personnel. Data describing daily clinical scores and farm treatments were previously collected from 4 farms for calves from birth to age 28 d. In this data set, a total of 460 calves were enrolled. Daily observations and clinical assessments were made on each farm by the same veterinarian, for a total of 12,101 calf observation days. Farm personnel made all treatment decisions based on their own observations, and these treatments were recorded by study personnel. Overall, the cumulative incidence of a calf exhibiting at least one abnormal clinical sign over the 28-d observation period was 0.93, with cumulative incidences of 0.85 and 0.33 for diarrhea and dehydration, respectively. The cumulative incidence of any treatment (including antibiotics and electrolytes) was 0.85, although the majority of treatments used an antimicrobial. The farm-specific probabilities that a calf with clinical signs of dehydration or diarrhea, respectively, received fluid or electrolyte therapy ranged from 0.08 to 0.27 and 0.03 to 0.12. These probabilities were greater for the day a clinical sign was first observed. The farm-specific probabilities that a calf with clinical signs of diarrhea received an antimicrobial was 0.23 to 0.65, and the probability that a calf exhibiting clinical signs of respiratory disease received an antimicrobial was 0.33 to 0.76. The first observation of diarrhea had similar probabilities to those for all observations of diarrhea. There was greater probability of treatment for calves with their first observed abnormal respiratory signs. Probabilities that treatment with antimicrobials, or fluids or electrolytes, was associated with an abnormal clinical sign were low-that is, calves received treatments in the absence of any abnormal clinical signs. This study illustrates incongruity between treatment decisions by calf treaters (the designated personnel on each farm responsible for calf health assessment and treatment decisions) and those of an observer using a clinical scoring system to identify calves with abnormal clinical signs. These findings indicate opportunities and the need for dairy farmers and advisors to evaluate calf treatment protocols, reasons for treatment, and training programs for calf health and disease detection, as well as to develop monitoring programs for treatment protocol compliance and health outcomes following therapy.


dairy calf,diarrhea,respiratory disease,treatment,