Mortality and morbidity are hardly documented in the white veal industry, despite high levels of antimicrobial drug use and resistance. The objective of the present study was to determine the causes and epidemiology of morbidity and mortality in dairy, beef and crossbred white veal production. A total of 5853 calves, housed in 15 production cohorts, were followed during one production cycle. Causes of mortality were determined by necropsy. Morbidity was daily recorded by the producers.
The total mortality risk was 5,3% and was significantly higher in beef veal production compared to dairy or crossbreds. The main causes of mortality were pneumonia (1.3% of the calves at risk), ruminal disorders (0.7%), idiopathic peritonitis (0.5%), enterotoxaemia (0.5%) and enteritis (0.4%). Belgian Blue beef calves were more likely to die from pneumonia, enterotoxaemia and arthritis. Detection of bovine viral diarrhea virus at necropsy was associated with chronic pneumonia and pleuritis. Of the calves, 25.4% was treated individually and the morbidity rate was 1.66 cases per 1000 calf days at risk. The incidence rate of respiratory disease, diarrhea, arthritis and otitis was 0.95, 0.30, 0.11 and 0.07 cases per 1000 calf days at risk respectively. Morbidity peaked in the first three weeks after arrival and gradually declined towards the end of the production cycle.
The present study provided insights into the causes and epidemiology of morbidity and mortality in white veal calves in Belgium, housed in the most frequent housing system in Europe. The necropsy findings, identified risk periods and differences between production systems can guide both veterinarians and producers towards the most profitable and ethical preventive and therapeutic protocols.