The National Animal Health Monitoring System’s “Dairy Heifer Raiser 2011” study revealed that many contract heifer raisers face common disease and health challenges in their operations. The 228 individual heifer-raising operations from 21 states reported:

  • The majority of producers listed heifer health among their major challenges, along with client relations; collection of payments; and feed costs/availability.
  • Heifers were commingled with animals from other farms in 60.3 percent of the operations.
  • Digestive problems and pneumonia were the most common diseases or disorders affecting preweaned heifers, and 18.2 and 16.4 percent of preweaned heifers, respectively, were treated with antibiotics during 2010 for these two disorders.
  • Antibioticswere used to treat diarrhea in preweaned heifers on 85.7 percent of operations.
  • Respiratory disease was the most common disorder affecting weaned heifers (11.2 percent of heifers). Antibiotics were used on 82.1 percent of operations to treat respiratory disease in weaned heifers.
  • More than five of 10 operations administered vitamin A-D-E or selenium by injection or in feed to preweaned heifers, and 41.1 percent administered probiotics.
  • More than three of four operations (76.2 percent) dewormed weaned heifers.
  • Magnets toprevent hardware disease were administered to weaned heifers on 10 percent of smalloperations and 37.7 percent of large operations.
  • More than four of 10 operations (43.0 percent) never used the same equipment to handlemanure and feed dairy heifers.
  • Digestive disordersand pneumonia were responsible for the deaths of 1.4 and 2.3 percent of preweaned heifers, respectively. There were no differences by herd size in the percentages of preweaned heifers that died due to each disease or disorder.
  • Pneumonia was the cause of death for 1.3 percent of weaned heifers and 0.2 percent of pregnant heifers.
  • Overall, 50 percent of operations performed necropsies.

View a full report of the study.