Understanding risks leads to a more successful calving season

April 30, 2018

It’s a wonderful time of year when baby farm animals take the stage (or, well, pasture), but it’s not a time without its risks. Fortunately, biosecurity and animal safety steps taken by farmers and ranchers every day go a long way in making sure each calving season is a success.

Experts at the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension Service define three types of pregnancy losses in cattle: early embryonic death (within 42 days of gestation), abortion (a miscarriage happening less than 270 days into gestation) and stillbirth, which is when calves pass away just before or just after birth.

“Although pregnancy losses in cattle are a fact of life, late-term losses are likely the most difficult pill for producers to swallow,” says Gerald Stokka, veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist. “There are often more questions than answers, and trying to find a reason for the loss can be a complex and frustrating process.”

As frustrating as diagnosing the reason for a loss might be, it’s important to preventing others, especially if there are multiple losses in a season.

Dystocia is one common reason for pregnancy loss. It’s what happens if calves are either too large, or improperly situated in the birth canal, resulting in difficulties such as stress and lack of oxygen during calving. This is more likely in cows that are overly conditioned, or too thin, says NDSU.

Nutritional deficiency is also common, especially in the nutrients selenium, iodine, manganese, vitamin A and vitamin E. These nutrients are needed to help the unborn calf grow properly.

Injury, stress and infectious disease can also cause pregnancy loss. Stress might come from weather-related issues, for example, or from the pain and inflammation caused by injuries. Stress causes the release of hormones that, in some cases, cause premature labor. For diseases, vaccines are important in preventing some of the biggest bacterial and viral players, like brucellosis, leptospirosis, vibriosis, bovine viral diarrhea and infectious bovine rhinotracheitis. Caution is vital here, though.

“It is important to always follow label directions when using modified live vaccines in pregnant cows because off-label use may result in abortions,” Stokka says. “To avoid this problem, producers should vaccinate cows when they are not pregnant, or consider using intranasal or vaccines labeled for use in pregnant cows.”

Appropriate biosecurity measures are essential for collecting any tissues for any kind of laboratory analysis, including latex gloves and masks. Some diseases can be passed from animal to human, after all. Tissues should be kept cool, but not frozen. In these cases, the placenta can be the best way for a laboratory to issue a diagnosis about the loss, according to NDSU. If an infectious disease can be identified this way, the whole herd can be kept safe.

Neogen offers products to care for all calves, from birth to weaning, including calf pullers and OB sleeves.