Contentious issues in calf rearing include milk feeding level and single versus group housing. The current study was performed on a high-producing 170 Holstein cow dairy farm to investigate the impact of nutrition and housing on disease incidence. Calves (n=100) were allocated in birth order to one of two commonly used feeding strategies. Group A calves were group housed from birth and fed ad libitum milk replacer (MR) via a computerised machine using a single teat, with weaning commencing at 63 days. Group R calves were initially housed in individual pens receiving 2.5 litres of MR twice daily via a bucket until three weeks of age when they were group housed and fed 3 litres of MR twice daily via a group trough with weaning commencing at 56 days. In total, 80 (80 per cent) calves suffered from at least one incident of disease during the period from birth to 12 weeks. Group A calves had a greater risk of disease than group R calves (diarrhoea: OR 3.86 (95 per cent CI 1.67 to 8.9); pneumonia: OR 5.80 (95 per cent CI 2.33 to 14.44)). There was a 5.1 per cent incidence of failure of passive transfer of Ig assessed via measurement of plasma total protein concentrations at 48 hours of age. It is hypothesised that the increased diarrhoea risk in group A calves was most likely associated with group housing, while the increased pneumonia risk was associated with the use of a single teat allowing increased transmission of pathogens from calf to calf.
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