Association between bulk-tank milk Salmonella antibody level and high calf mortality in Danish dairy herds

T.D. Nielsen, L. R. Nielsen, Nils Toft, H. Houe

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Salmonella enterica ssp. enterica Dublin is the most common Salmonella serotype found in the dairy sector in Denmark. Salmonella antibody level in bulk-tank milk (BTM), indicative of Salmonella Dublin infection in the herd, has been recorded regularly in all Danish dairy herds through a surveillance program since 2002. The objective of this study was to investigate whether high BTM Salmonella antibody level was associated with high calf mortality at herd level. Other risk factors for high calf mortality were also investigated: breed, production type (organic vs. conventional), number of animals purchased, herd size, and number of neighbor herds within a 4.9-km radius. Data from the Danish Cattle Database including the Salmonella surveillance program from September 2007 through August 2008 were used. Dairy herds with more than 20 cows were included (n = 4,337). Because of a highly right-skewed distribution of calf mortality with many zero values, calf mortality had to be dichotomized for the analysis. Therefore, in this study, high calf mortality was defined as calf mortality of more than 6.5% for calves aged 1 to 180 d. A logistic analysis was performed to identify risk factors associated with the probability of a herd having high calf mortality. The following factors were significantly associated with high calf mortality: high BTM Salmonella antibody level, odds ratio (OR) = 2.0 (95% confidence interval = 1.6–2.4), organic production OR = 1.4 (95% confidence interval = 1.1–1.7) for organic versus conventional production, and breed. Purchase of 8 or more animals increased the OR of high calf mortality more than purchase of 1 to 7 animals, which again had a higher OR compared with purchase of 0 animals. Because only 14.3% of the population consisted of herds with high BTM Salmonella status, the estimated proportion of herds with high calf mortality could only be reduced from 38.7 to 36.5% by eradicating Salmonella from the Danish cattle population (i.e., a population attributable risk of 2.2%). This showed that although there is a strong association between BTM Salmonella status and calf mortality, the problem with high calf mortality will not be solved by eradicating Salmonella. All other things equal, a population with more Salmonella-infected herds would gain a larger reduction in calf mortality from a Salmonella control campaign. Nevertheless, individual herds with a high within-herd prevalence of Salmonella are likely to benefit, both economically and regarding animal welfare, from controlling pathogenic Salmonella types in cattle.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)304-310
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Salmonella Dublin
  • risk factor
  • calf mortality
  • dairy cattle


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