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Review Paper
Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences 2011;24(9): 1318-1328.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.5713/ajas.2011.11099    Published online August 24, 2011.
Factors Affecting High Mortality Rates of Dairy Replacement Calves and Heifers in the Tropics and Strategies for Their Reduction
John B. Moran
Abstract
The tropics is not an ideal location for calf rearing as the high temperatures and humidities introduce many potential disease problems to milk fed calves. In addition, the type of dairy farming (generally poorly resourced small holder farming) and the general lack of awareness of the long term implications of poorly reared stock do not encourage farmers to pay close attention to their calf and heifer rearing systems. Surveys of calf rearing systems in Asia, tropical Africa and South America highlight the high calf and heifer mortalities. A range of 15 to 25% pre-weaning calf mortality is typical on many tropical dairy farms. It is often as high as 50%, indicating very poor calf management. This contrasts with US findings of less than 8% mortality from birth to 6 months while surveys of Australian farmers report only 3% losses. Simple extension programs on farms in Sri Lanka and Kenya have drastically reduced calf mortalities and improved pre-weaning growth rates. Improved management strategies leading to lower calving intervals, higher calving rates, reduced still born and pre-weaned calf mortalities and fewer non pregnant heifers can supply many more dairy herd replacements than currently occurs. Such strategies can increase the number of replacement heifer calves in the herd from 15 to over 35%, thus allowing farmers to increase their herd sizes through natural increases. Simple management procedures such as ensuring adequate intake of good quality colostrum within the first 12 hours of life, housing and good hygiene to minimise disease transfer, providing clean drinking water, developing appropriate feeding protocols to encourage early rumen development and paying closer attention to climate control and animal health can all lead to improved calf vigour and performance. Good record keeping is also important so farmers can more easily identify susceptible calves and quickly treat potential problems.
Keywords: Pre-weaning; Calf Mortality; Tropics; Small Holder Dairy Systems


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