Suboptimal herd performance amplifies the spread of infectious disease in the cattle industry

M Carolyn Gates, Mark E J Woolhouse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Farms that purchase replacement breeding cattle are at increased risk of introducing many economically important diseases. The objectives of this analysis were to determine whether the total number of replacement breeding cattle purchased by individual farms could be reduced by improving herd performance and to quantify the effects of such reductions on the industry-level transmission dynamics of infectious cattle diseases. Detailed information on the performance and contact patterns of British cattle herds was extracted from the national cattle movement database as a case example. Approximately 69% of beef herds and 59% of dairy herds with an average of at least 20 recorded calvings per year purchased at least one replacement breeding animal. Results from zero-inflated negative binomial regression models revealed that herds with high average ages at first calving, prolonged calving intervals, abnormally high or low culling rates, and high calf mortality rates were generally more likely to be open herds and to purchase greater numbers of replacement breeding cattle. If all herds achieved the same level of performance as the top 20% of herds, the total number of replacement beef and dairy cattle purchased could be reduced by an estimated 34% and 51%, respectively. Although these purchases accounted for only 13% of between-herd contacts in the industry trade network, they were found to have a disproportionately strong influence on disease transmission dynamics. These findings suggest that targeting extension services at herds with suboptimal performance may be an effective strategy for controlling endemic cattle diseases while simultaneously improving industry productivity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e93410
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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