Premature, Stillborn, or Dead

Bred heifers are starting to drop calves in our area. Of course, Mother Nature decided to send us some below zero temperatures and some wind, just to remind ranchers what winter can look like. 

We have been seeing an unusual amount of premature and stillborn calves. 

Pregnant cow nutrition pre-calving is probably the single biggest culprit in these calves, but since calving is upon us, that ship has sailed. 

However, there are still a few things that producers can investigate and potentially remedy.

First off, calves out of thin cows are going to be at higher risk. The first calf and second calf heifers are often in this group just because of their age.

Colostrum out of this group is not as rich in fat, nutrients, or antibodies. This contributes to a number of causes of the weak or dead or premature calf:


1. Hypothermia: Fat in the colostrum is critical in regulating the body temperature of calves. So first, the calf has to be in good enough shape to stand and suck. Then when the calf does suck, that colostrum has to have a high enough energy content to keep that calf from getting cold.  

What can you do if you suspect that the colostrum is low quality, or if the calf can’t get up to suck? Use a colostrum REPLACER. Make sure you are buying replacer and not supplement. The replacer is about twice as concentrated as the supplement. So the calf is getting more immunoglobulins and more nutrients, in a much small volume. The price different is about $10-15 more for replacer than supplement. But it could make the difference between life and death. 

 2. Vitamin A and E: The calf is not born with these vitamins. They need to consume large quantities of them in the colostrum right after birth. They are responsible for vision, muscle growth and function, among other things. Testing for levels of these minerals in the calf that hasn’t sucked yet gives us little to no information. We need to get blood samples from the dam, or samples from the calf AFTER it has sucked. 

You can give an injection of Vitamin EAD at birth to calves. 

**If you are giving an injectable scour guard to calves, you do NOT want to give these two shots together.** 

3. BVD: We saw a number of calf losses last year due to BVD. If you have a dead, sick, or premature calf, take a piece of the ear and put it in a ziplock bag. Write the cow and calf ear tag number and put it in your freezer. You will want to submit these for testing. You do not want to find out in the late summer or fall that you have BVD in your herd!

4. Trace Mineral Status: I also like to take a piece of liver of anything that dies on the ranch. The liver will tell us what your trace mineral status is. This is true even if you are paying big bucks for a mineral package and think that there is no way you could be deficient. 

We had one herd with calving issues already this year that was due to precipitously low copper levels. The whole herd had been on a fantastic mineral package all year. It ended up that the cows were drinking from a surface water source that was tying up the trace minerals. Injections of multi-min at key points during the year will help avoid this issue. 

If you are having issues, our veterinarians are always happy to investigate. Call us if you have any questions!