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Improve heifers' opportunity to survive and thrive

July 07, 2021
POSTED BY: Dave Erf | Geneticist | U.S. Dairy Technical Services | Zoetis

Respiratory disease and scours are the two leading causes of calf death loss and disease incidence in the first year of life. On average, 21.1% of pre-weaned dairy heifers in the U.S. are affected by scours, and 12% are affected by respiratory disease.1 Further, the cost of poor calf health is significant and long-lasting. For example, calves with respiratory disease that required treatment produced about 1,087 pounds less milk in the first lactation than calves with no record of being treated.2 Research shows that heifers that had pneumonia have approximately two times greater risk of death before calving than those that did not have to fight the disease.3 Meanwhile, data also demonstrates that scours cases increase heifer death risk prior to calving by 2.5 times.4


Disease incidence and calf mortality can heavily influence heifer replacement costs, which can be the second-highest expense for dairy farmers, averaging from 8.6% up to 20% of total milk production costs in Holstein herds.5,6


These facts heighten the need to focus on and improve calf well-being in every way possible, beginning with your genomic breeding program.


The calf wellness traits included in CLARIFIDE® Plus pull back the curtain on incidence of calf livability, calf respiratory disease and scours to enhance overall animal well-being. Calf wellness traits help producers identify and breed for calves less likely to become ill due to respiratory disease or scours, as well as animals that are more likely to survive up to calving.


Build Your Genetic Blueprint for Success

To optimize the advantages of genomic testing to improve calf and cow wellness, be sure that your genomic testing program includes all of the key ingredients to help you achieve your desired outcomes, including:

  • The most inclusive index available — Dairy Wellness Profit Index® (DWP$®). Current indexes, such as Net Merit (MS$), do not include key calf wellness information and may be negatively associated with some of these traits.
  • DWP$ provides insights to help improve the outcome of the calf (and cow) wellness traits with its inclusion, thus improving progress toward enhancing overall herd health.
  • A comprehensive approach to dairy wellness and productivity, beginning with an array of genomic traits to predict and help achieve healthier, more trouble-free cows and calves.
  • Leadership and expertise in animal health and genetics to help meet the environmental and production stresses of today’s dairies, from calves to cows.
  • Accurate genetic predictions for cow and calf wellness traits using established, proven outcomes - this is achieved by using cutting-edge genetic evaluation methodology and applying it to data collected from millions of health records within U.S. commercial herds.7,8

To learn how you can achieve a healthier herd, contact your Zoetis representative today or visit our website for CLARIFIDE Plus .

1 U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dairy 2014 Health and Management Practices on U.S. Dairy Operations, 2014.  Accessed June 10, 2021.

2 Van Eenennaam AL. Bovine Respiratory Disease Prevention: Opportunities for Genetic Selection, in Proceedings. 2015 Western Dairy Management Conference. Accessed March 9, 2021.

3 Gorden PJ, Plummer P. Control, management, and prevention of bovine respiratory disease in dairy calves and cows. Vet Clin North Am Food Anim Pract. 2010;26(2):243-259.

4 Brockmann B. What is scours costing your operation? Progressive Dairy, May 6, 2014. Accessed March 9, 2021.

5 Overton M, Dhuyvetter KC. Economic considerations regarding the raising of dairy replacement heifers. In: Beede D, ed. Large Dairy Herd Management. Champaign, IL: American Dairy Science Association. 2017;457-474.

6 Heinrichs J, Gabler M, Tozer P, Schriefer T. Heifer Economics. Updated May 4, 2016. Accessed March 9, 2021.

7 McNeel AK, Reiter BC, Weigel D, Osterstock J, Di Croce FA. Validation of genomic predictions for wellness traits in U.S. Holstein cows. J Dairy Sci. 2017;100(11):9115-9124. 

8 Vukasinovic N, Bacciu N, Przybyla CA, Boddhireddy P, DeNise SK. Development of genetic and genomic evaluation for wellness traits in U.S. Holstein cows. J Dairy Sci. 2017;100(1):428-438.



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