Little is known on the effects of common calf diseases on mortality and carcass traits in the white veal industry (special-fed veal), a highly integrated production system, currently criticized for the intensive pro- and metaphylactic use of antimicrobials. The objective of the present study was to determine the impact of bovine respiratory disease (BRD), diarrhea, arthritis and otitis on the economically important parameters of mortality, hot carcass weight (HCW), carcass quality, fat cover and meat color. For this purpose, a prospective study on 3519 white veal calves, housed in 10 commercial herds, was conducted. Case definitions were based on clinical observation by the producers and written treatment records were used.
Calves received oral antimicrobial group treatments in the milk during 25.2% of the production time on average. With an increasing percentage of the production cycle spent on oral antimicrobials, HCW reduced, whereas the odds for insufficient fat cover or an undesirable red meat color both decreased. Of the calves, 14.8%, 5.3%, 1.5% and 1.6% were individually diagnosed and treated for BRD, diarrhea, arthritis and otitis, respectively. Overall, 5.7% of the calves died and the mortality risk was higher in the first weeks after arrival. Calves that experienced one BRD episode showed a 8.2 kg reduction in HCW, a lower fat cover and an increased mortality risk (hazard ratio (HR) = 5.5), compared to calves which were not individually diagnosed and treated for BRD. With an increasing number of BRD episodes, these losses increased dramatically. Additionally, calves, which experienced multiple BRD episodes, were more likely to have poor carcass quality and an undesirable red meat color at slaughter. Arthritis increased the mortality risk (HR = 3.9), and reduced HCW only when associated with BRD. Otitis did only increase the mortality risk (HR = 7.0). Diarrhea severely increased the mortality risk (HR = 11.0), reduced HCW by 9.2 kg on average and decreased carcass quality.
Despite the massive use of group and individual treatments to alleviate the most prevalent health issues at the fattening period, the effects of BRD, diarrhea, otitis and arthritis on survival and performance are still considerable, especially in cases of chronic pneumonia with or without arthritis. Controlling calf health by effective preventive and therapeutic strategies and in particular the prevention of chronic BRD is key for the profitability of veal operations.