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Prevalence of respiratory disorders in veal calves and potential risk factors

Brscic, M., Leruste, H., Heutinck, L.F.M., Bokkers, E.A.M., Wolthuis-Fillerup, M., Stockhofe, N., Gottardo, F., Lensink, B.J., Cozzi, G., Van Reenen, C.G.
Journal of dairy science 2012 v.95 no.5 pp. 2753-2764
calf housing, cross-sectional studies, disease prevention, equipment, farms, finishing, lungs, meat inspection, nose, pneumonia, risk factors, slaughter, slaughterhouses, veal, veal calves, veterinarians, France, Italy, Netherlands
The study aimed to assess the in vivo and postmortem prevalence of respiratory disorders in veal calves and investigate risk factors associated with them. A cross-sectional study was carried out in 174 farms in the 3 major veal meat–producing countries in Europe (50 in France, 100 in the Netherlands, and 24 in Italy). Trained veterinarians visually evaluated individual calves of 1 batch per farm at 3 and 13 wk after arrival and at 2 wk before slaughter to assess the prevalence of hampered respiration, nasal discharge, and coughing. A random sample of lungs belonging to calves of the same batch was monitored at the slaughterhouse for mild to moderate or severe signs of pneumonia, and presence of pleuritis. Data regarding veal calf housing, feeding, and management and specific characteristics of the batch were collected through an interview with the stockperson, and the potential of these as respiratory disease risk factors was assessed. Regardless of the stage of fattening, the prevalence of in vivo signs of respiratory disorders in calves was always <7%. This low prevalence was likely the outcome of the general implementation by veal producers of standardized practices such as prophylaxis, all-in/all-out, and individual daily checks of the calves, which are recognized tools for effective disease prevention and management. However, at postmortem inspection, 13.9% and 7.7% of lungs showed mild to moderate and severe signs of pneumonia, respectively, and 21.4% of the inspected lungs had pleuritis. Thus, even mild clinical signs of respiratory disorder in calves at specific time points during the fattening period may be associated with high prevalence of lungs with lesions at slaughter. Alternatively, clinical symptoms recorded during routine visual inspections of veal calves on-farm may be poor predictors of the true prevalence of respiratory disease in calves. Among all potential risk factors considered, those concerning the characteristics of the batch were predominant but factors related to housing, management and feeding equipment were also relevant. Different risk factors were involved at different stages of the fattening period. Therefore, to overcome respiratory disorders in veal calves, different solutions may apply to different stages of the fattening period.