Case-control study on factors associated with a decreased milk yield and a depressed health status of dairy herds in northern Germany
Background In the past years, it became apparent that health status and performance differ considerably within dairy farms in Northern Germany. In order to obtain clues with respect to possible causes of these differences, a case-control study was performed. Case farms, which showed signs of health and performance problems, and control farms, which had none of these signs, were compared. Risk factors from different areas such as health management, housing, hygiene and nutrition were investigated as these are known to be highly influential. The aim of this study was to identify major factors within these areas that have the strongest association with health and performance problems of dairy herds in Northern Germany. Results In the final model, a lower energy density in the roughage fraction of the diet, more pens with dirty lying areas and a low ratio of cows per watering spaces were associated with a higher risk for herd health problems. Moreover, case farms were affected by infections with intestinal parasites, lungworms, liver flukes and Johne’s Disease numerically more often than control farms. Case farms more often had pens with raised cubicles compared to the deep bedded stalls or straw yards found in control farms. In general, the hygiene of the floors and beddings was worse in case farms. Concerning nutrition, the microbiological and sensory quality of the provided silages was often insufficient, even in control farms. Less roughage was provided to early lactating cows and the feed was pushed to the feeding fence less frequently in case farms than in control farms. Conclusions The results show that milk yield and health status were associated with various factors from different areas stressing the importance of all aspects of management for good animal health and performance. Moreover, this study confirmed well-known risk factors for health problems and performance losses. These should better be taken heed of in herd health management.