Effect of the environment on the risk of respiratory disease in preweaning dairy calves during summer months

A. P. Louie, J. D. Rowe, W. J. Love, T. W. Lehenbauer, S. S. Aly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Heat stress has the potential to adversely affect the physiology, passive immunity, and growth of preweaning dairy calves, increasing their risk of respiratory disease. The effect of heat stress on the risk for bovine respiratory disease (BRD) may be mediated in part through housing, ventilation, and management factors. As a result, differences may exist in meteorological measures recorded in the calf-rearing area (macroenvironment) and within a calf's enclosure (microenvironment). The objective of this prospective cohort study was to evaluate and compare the association between exposure to temperature and humidity measured at the macro- and microenvironment, and BRD in preweaning dairy calves; a secondary objective was to evaluate the correlation between the macro- and microenvironment. A cohort of 252 calves from 4 premises in central San Joaquin Valley, California (CA), was followed and evaluated for development of respiratory disease using the CA BRD scoring system for preweaning dairy calves, a standardized and validated scoring system. During this time, the meteorological conditions of the calf-rearing area and the within-hutch environment were measured and showed a significant correlation with regard to temperature and humidity. Mixed effects logistic regression and survival analysis were used to analyze the association between the exposures daily environmental measures of temperature, humidity, and temperature-humidity index (THI) and the outcome BRD, adjusted for dairy premises, calf age, sex, and breed. Results showed a significant positive association between daily maximum temperature and BRD in both the calf's macroenvironment [odds ratio = 1.121 (95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.029–1.222)] and microenvironment [odds ratio = 1.203 (95% CI = 1.020–1.418)]. Estimated hazard rates also showed a significant positive association between BRD and daily maximum temperature in both the macroenvironment [hazard ratio = 1.127 (95% CI = 1.053–1.206)] and microenvironment [hazard ratio = 1.119 (95% CI = 1.047–1.197)]. In contrast, we found no association between daily maximum humidity in a calf's microenvironment and BRD. Daily maximum THI within the hutch was significantly associated with only the rate of BRD cases [hazard ratio = 1.070 (95% CI = 1.003–1,141)] but not the odds of occurrence of BRD. Maximum THI is estimated using temperature and humidity, which in California's hot and dry summers may limit variability in THI, explaining its weaker significant association with risk of BRD (or lack of association with odds of BRD) compared with models for maximum temperature in this study. Calves exposed to high day temperatures and relatively low humidity may be experiencing heat stress that predisposes to BRD. Results of the current study suggest that heat abatement efforts should address heat stress at the microenvironment level to mitigate BRD in calves. Further research should investigate strategies to improve calf hutch systems, including hutch materials and design that may optimize ventilation, provide ample shade, spacing, cleanliness, and protection from heat.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10230-10247
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • bovine respiratory disease
  • dairy calf
  • heat stress
  • macroenvironment
  • microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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