Vet’s Voice: Avoiding and dealing with abortions and stillbirths

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The weather has been great so far this spring, but I am sure it will change sometime during the calving season. This year we have seen more early deliveries than normal for our area. We have had a lot of warm weather resulting in increased mold growth in our feedstuffs.

Abortions result anytime the calf delivered prematurely and usually are dead. It is common for losses to be 1-2 percent in your herd. We send samples to the diagnostic lab but many times (75 percent) we receive no definitive diagnosis. There are several management tactics you can use to minimize your losses.

Mechanical mon-infectious causes should be eliminated whenever possible. Move pregnant animals slowly and carefully. Make sure the footing is good for the animals. Crowding and falling result in trauma and losses. When working cows avoid poking animals in the flank with pipes and posts. I had a client who purchased a purebred pregnant cow at an auction. When the cow delivered her calf, one hind leg was several inches shorter than the other. Examination revealed a broken femur (upper hind leg) which was an overriding fracture. It had started to heal in the uterus. It was broken in transport or handling. We must be careful to avoid these problems with pregnant cows.

Abnormal development happens in low percentages in populations. Anytime you see repeated genetic problems, be sure to check the bull’s pedigree as well as the cow’s if possible. If there is a repetitive pattern, you must consider elimination from the herd. We have seen several genetic problems this spring. Never use bulls with known genetic problems as they may produce carrier calves which will limit the future of your herd.

Infectious causes of abortion are most feared by the producer. The causes can be viral, bacterial, fungal or protozoal. Vaccinating helps eliminate many of the common infectious causes. Be sure you have current vaccinations to minimize your problems. Always remember the animals respond to vaccines differently and a vaccination does not insure 100% efficacy.

As testing of feedstuffs has improved over the years, we are seeing more molds. When the cow ingests molds they enter the bloodstream and block the placenta causing poor nutrition for the calf. This fall we had rains during the corn harvest. Many of the stalks were rained on before they were baled. As winter approached many were baled tough. Samples of corn stover bales have been very high in mold counts. We have even seen some problems when it has been used as bedding. Be sure to minimize molds fed to cows in late gestation.

Feedstuffs can be contaminated by other vectors. Wild animals and rodents carry many contagious causes of abortion. Even domestic animals and pets can damage feed stuffs. Always feed in bunks if possible to avoid contamination from the soil and standing water. We have seen many abortions this spring caused by common soil born bacteria. The warm weather and standing water have allowed consumption of these organisms. Most years the frozen ground has limited the intake of these pathogens.

Still births (term calves born dead) can result without any indications from the cow. The placenta may release too early or the navel may rupture or break. This results in lack of oxygenation and ultimately death of the calf. I’m sure you have all witnesses a calf being delivered with the entire placenta still intact around the calf.

All producers are frustrated by still births and abortions. Careful handling, a good vaccination program, high quality feedstuffs and protection from extreme environmental stressors will drastically reduce your problems. Visit with your veterinarian, nutritionalist, or extension specialist and devise the best management programs for your herd. The extra calves weaned will help the profitability of your herd.