Farm characteristics and calf management practices on dairy farms with and without diarrhea: a case-control study to investigate risk factors for calf diarrhea

J Dairy Sci. 2014;97(8):5110-9. doi: 10.3168/jds.2013-7695. Epub 2014 Jun 2.


Calf diarrhea is one of the most important problems in calf rearing on dairy farms worldwide. Besides pathogens, several noninfectious management factors, especially management around birth, colostrum management, calf housing, feeding, and hygiene are important in the pathogenesis of diarrhea. To date, few data are available concerning calf rearing management on small and medium-sized dairy farms that are typical for Austria and the alpine region. Consequently, the objectives of this case-control study were to evaluate routine calf management practices on Austrian dairy farms and to examine differences in management between farms with and without the presence of calf diarrhea to identify risk factors. Overall, 100 dairy farms were visited. Of these farms, 50 were chosen based on the history and presence of calf diarrhea (case farms). Another 50 farms with no presence of calf diarrhea were chosen to serve as a standard of comparison (control farms). On farms, management was evaluated by face-to-face interview, and health status and hygiene were surveyed. Several calf rearing management procedures were similar on all of the visited farms, especially in areas regulated by national and European law. These factors include colostrum management and feeding. Consequently, no influence of these factors on the appearance of calf diarrhea could be detected. In contrast, other areas such as hygiene measures differed between farms and showed a partial association with the presence of calf diarrhea on farm. Variables related to diarrhea on farm were farm size; that is, the number of cows on farm. Farms with diarrhea cases were larger (median 40 cows, interquartile range 24.5 to 64.0) compared with farms with no presence of diarrhea (median 28 cows, interquartile range 18.8 to 44.0). Other risk factors that influenced the presence of diarrhea were the presence of other farm animal species on the farm [odds ratio (OR) 26.89, 95% confidence interval (CI): 2.64 to 273.5], frequency of cleaning of the calving area (OR 0.12, 95% CI: 0.02 to 0.79), the placement of individual calf housings (barn vs. outdoors; OR 0.02, 95% CI: 0.00 to 0.47), and the presence of respiratory tract disease (OR 52.49, 95% CI: 1.26 to 2,181.83). The possible influence of these factors on the appearance of calf diarrhea should be considered when farmers are advised.

Keywords: dairy calf; diarrhea; management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn / physiology*
  • Austria / epidemiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cattle / physiology*
  • Cattle Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Cattle Diseases / prevention & control
  • Colostrum / physiology*
  • Dairying / methods*
  • Diarrhea / epidemiology
  • Diarrhea / prevention & control
  • Diarrhea / veterinary*
  • Female
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Factors