Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, Tulare 93274; Department of Population Health and Reproduction, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis 95616. Electronic address: [Email]
Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is one of the leading causes of death in dairy heifers. The objective of this prospective cohort study was to characterize the epidemiology of BRD in preweaned dairy calves and to identify management practices associated with decreased risk of BRD. Dairies were chosen for the study based on management practices, location, size, and willingness to participate. A total of 6 dairies, ranging in size from 700 to 3,200 milking cows, in 6 counties across California's Central Valley, were enrolled in the study for at least 1 year. A total of 11,945 calves were born on the study dairies and followed until weaning. Incidence of BRD was estimated using treatment records. Trained study personnel performed comprehensive calf management surveys and estimated BRD prevalence on every dairy at least once every season. A shared frailty model was used to model the associations between management practices and BRD hazard. The final models included data from complete records of 11,470 calves. The overall BRD study period prevalence across the study herds was 22.8%. The mean BRD incidence density rate on all the study dairies was 0.17 BRD cases [95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.16-1.74] per calf-month at risk. The shared frailty model identified that feeding only waste or saleable milk (compared with use of milk replacer), feeding over 3.8 L of milk per day to calves under 21 d of age, frequent changing of maternity pen bedding, and administration of modified live or killed BRD vaccines to dams before calving significantly reduced the risk of BRD. Risk factors for BRD included housing calves in wooden hutches with metal roofs, compared with all-wood hutches, twin births, and perception of dust occurring "regularly," as reported by calf managers, compared with a perception of "no dust" in the calf-raising area. All 4 seasons were analyzed, and both summer (hazard ratio = 1.15; 95% CI = 1.01 to 1.32) and spring (hazard ratio = 1.26; 95% CI = 1.11 to 1.44) were associated with a higher risk of BRD compared with winter. The current longitudinal study identified specific housing and feeding practices that could be modified to decrease risk of BRD. In addition, season was observed to have a strong effect on calves' risk of developing BRD on California dairies.