A prospective cohort study was undertaken on two central California dairies, A and B, to estimate prevalence of congenital infection with Neospora caninum, to characterize temporal variation in prevalence, to determine if occurrence of congenital infection was associated with specific dam and calf attributes, and to estimate the effect of congenital infection on calfhood mortality. Of the 405 calves enrolled over a period of 2 1/2 y on dairy A and dairy B, 30.6% (85/278) and 53.5% (68/127), respectively, were seropositive precolostrally to N. caninum, as determined by an ELISA test. Adult cow seroprevalence at calving was 36.0% (82/228) for dairy A, and 57.9% (33/57) for dairy B. No evidence was found for a significant increasing or decreasing trend in adult and precolostral seroprevalence through the study period (P > or = 0.26). For both herds combined, 81% of seropositive cows (93/115) and 5% of seronegative cows (8/170) had congenitally infected calves. Seroprevalence did not increase with cow age on either dairy (P > or = 0.47). The probability of a calf being congenitally infected was not associated with dam age, dam lactation number, dam history of abortion, calf gender, or length of gestation (P > or = 0.11). High dam ELISA values at calving were significantly associated (P < or = 0.001) with an increased probability of congenital infection in her calf. Results of survival analyses of female calves available for follow-up indicated a consistently greater survivorship to 90 d in congenitally infected calves than in noninfected calves on both dairies, which was significant for dairy A (P = 0.07, n = 186) but not for dairy B (P = 0.69, n = 72), thus indicating that congenital infection does not necessarily have a detrimental effect on calf health. The findings of a similar magnitude in congenital infection rate and adult cow prevalence, the lack of increasing seroprevalence with cow age, the lack of an effect of dam age on precolostral seropositivity, and the constant seroprevalences during the study period, suggest that, in the two dairies studied, congenital transmission constituted a substantial amount of infection and was likely the major mode of transmission of N. caninum.