Identifying maternal and post-natal effects on pre-weaned dairy calves’ health


AWF Research Fund



Research period


Area of study

Student Research







Investigator(s): Kerry Long

Supervisor(s): Georgios Oikonomou, Joseph Neary

Neonatal calf health is still suboptimal in many UK farms. Diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia remain highly prevalent and represent a major threat for the young calf’s welfare and the sustainability of dairy farms. This project would conduct research into a variety of factors that may be associated with the susceptibility of neonatal calves to disease. The main area of focus would be to investigate the impact maternal stressors may have in the development of early life calf diseases. More specifically, they hoped to explore how maternal diseases like lameness or mastitis occurring during the gestation period might affect the health of the new-born dairy calf.

This study demonstrated not only the importance of calf health for welfare, but also that welfare is crucial for pregnant dams in order to provide the best welfare outcome for calves. Furthermore, the findings showed that calves born from severely lame mothers are significantly more likely to have failure of passive transfer than calves born to healthy mothers. Failure of passive transfer creates a host of issues for the vulnerable calf, who will be more exposed to disease than calves who have had successful passive transfer.

Further analyses and projects will be undertaken using the data collected, which will hopefully yield more results. This project collected a lot of valuable samples that could be used for further research outside the scope of this project e.g., DNA blood samples of calves to perform more genetics research, as well as faecal samples to look at calf microbiome.

Read about Kerry’s experience of conducting her research during the Pandemic