Case control study techniques were used to compare the incidence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the progeny of two affected sires and 110 affected dams with the incidence of BSE in the progeny of animals known to be unaffected at the last record. All the progeny were born before the ban on ruminant-derived protein in feedstuffs issued in July 1988. The results provide little, if any, evidence of differences between the incidence in the progeny of the affected animals and the incidence in the progeny of the presumed unaffected animals. Data from five herds were used in a logistic regression analysis to study the effects of the disease status of the dam and the age of the dam at the birth of the calf on the incidence of BSE. The disease status of the dam did not significantly affect the disease status of its progeny, after allowance had been made for the effects of herd, year and the age at last record of the progeny. The difficulty of establishing maternal transmission if a high proportion of the dams are incubating the disease and transmission can occur early in the incubation period is discussed.