Cow- and herd-level risk factors for on-farm mortality in Midwest US dairy herds

M. Q. Shahid, J. K. Reneau, Hugh Chester-Jones, R. C. Chebel, Marcia I Endres

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21 Scopus citations


The objectives of this study were to describe on-farm mortality and to investigate cow- and herd-level risk factors associated with on-farm mortality in Midwest US dairy herds using lactation survival analysis. We analyzed a total of approximately 5.9 million DHIA lactation records from 10 Midwest US states from January 2006 to December 2010. The cow-level independent variables used in the models were first test-day milk yield, milk fat percent, milk protein percent, fat-to-protein ratio, milk urea nitrogen, somatic cell score, previous dry period, previous calving interval, stillbirth, calf sex, twinning, calving difficulty, season of calving, parity, and breed. The herd-level variables included herd size, calving interval, somatic cell score, 305-d mature-equivalent milk yield, and herd stillbirth percentage. Descriptive analysis showed that overall cow-level mortality rate was 6.4 per 100 cow-years and it increased from 5.9 in 2006 to 6.8 in 2010. Mortality was the primary reason of leaving the herd (19.4% of total culls) followed by reproduction (14.6%), injuries and other (14.0%), low production (12.3%), and mastitis (10.5%). Risk factor analysis showed that increased hazard for mortality was associated with higher fat-to-protein ratio (>1.6 vs. 1 to 1.6), higher milk fat percent, lower milk protein percent, cows with male calves, cows carrying multiple calves, higher milk urea nitrogen, increasing parity, longer previous calving interval, higher first test-day somatic cell score, increased calving difficulty score, and breed (Holstein vs. others). Decreased hazard for mortality was associated with higher first test-day milk yield, higher milk protein, and shorter dry period. For herd-level factors, increased hazard for mortality was associated with increased herd size, increased percentage of stillbirths, higher somatic cell score, and increased herd calving interval. Cows in herds with higher milk yield had lower mortality hazard. Results of the study indicated that first test-day records, especially those indicative of negative energy balance in cows, could be helpful to identify animals at high risk for mortality. Higher milk yield per cow did not have a negative association with mortality. In addition, the association between herd-level factors and mortality indicated that management quality could be an important factor in lowering on-farm mortality, thereby improving cow welfare.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4401-4413
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Dairy Records Management Systems (Raleigh, NC) for kindly providing the DHIA data set. M. Q. Shahid was supported by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (Islamabad).


  • Cow mortality
  • Risk factors

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