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Treat individual cows to raise the reproductive rate

Ensure good uterine health to help prepare cows for re-breeding

As herds get bigger and electronic ID tags get used more for record-keeping, more attention can be given to individual cow medicine. We can learn lots from our colleagues in dairy production about looking after individual cows. Health and fertility go hand in hand. If by paying attention and potentially treating cows with everything from inappetance to mild uterine infection, you increase the chances of them conceiving when they are supposed to in the breeding season.

As we all know, lots of things need to be in order to get cows through calving to breeding again within 60-90 days. By utilizing good observational skills, record-keeping and a plan to examine and potentially treat or supplement these cows the results could be higher conception rates overall. A list of cows to closely examine after calving and at least a couple of weeks before breeding needs to be made and the time set aside to work on these cows. The list of cows should include but not be limited to cows that twinned, had an assisted calving, prolapsed uterus, fetotomy, retained placenta or uterine discharge. It should also include any that are low in body condition score, were treated for metabolic diseases such as milk fever, have bloody urine, a swollen udder or generally appear off. If their calf is doing poorly from possibly not enough milk an examination is in order. Lameness is caused by pain so any painful condition needs to be treated, as body condition will be run down. Pain also leads to high cortisol levels that have a negative effect on fertility.

As you can see this may become a large list, but if a clinical examination leads to a more specific diagnosis, the treatment your veterinarian prescribes may be the answer to improved performance. Not only could milk production go up and the calf do better, a cow on a rising plane of nutrition is much more likely to conceive when bred.

The calving-related issues and retained placentas that cause your veterinarian to palpate the cow may determine whether an endometritis or endometriosis is present. From there treatment could run from intrautuerine infusion to antibiotics systemically to short cycling the cow and bringing her into heat to cleanse the uterus. These variables depend on the veterinarian’s choice and the severity of the infection.

I once followed a herd that experienced a high twinning rate. The conception rate was good in the herd overall but only 50 per cent in the cows which had twins. In today’s beef herds with good nutrition, twinning (because the calves are born early or a bit premature) often result in a retained placenta. It is a fact of life but managing these highly fertile cows will hopefully keep more of them in your herd. Hard dystocias or premature births also increase the retained placenta rate. These cows should all be recorded and examined at a later date.

The first sign of many conditions that is most obvious to many people is weight loss. If a large number of cows are experiencing this then nutrition or parasites may be the culprit. Individual cows may have individual ailments.

Ones such as kidney infection, peritonitis or wooden tongue may be treatable and can be cured. If the cow recovers body condition in time they may conceive. Early intervention and the correct diagnosis and treatment in these cases can retain these cows.

With others such as severe mastitis, Johne’s disease or chronic pneumonia, early diagnosis may allow you to ship them early enough to gain the salvage value.

By knowing your herd, your veterinarian will know the expected prognosis, recovery rate and whether reoccurrence is a possibility.

Keep in mind older cows start losing teeth and dentition could be the cause of the weight loss. It might be better if they are not rebred. Even if they conceive, the condition could significantly worsen by the following year.

With later-calving cows, retained placenta or hard pulls, palpation before breeding season can assess the potential of bringing them into heat with prostaglandins. With palpation your veterinarian can determine if cycling is starting to occur and if there is any rudimentary infection present in the uterus. From there the cow may be infused with appropriate approved antibiotics directly into the uterus. There may be a need for systemic antibiotics in some cases and the prostaglandin should bring the cow into heat. Cycling is a cleansing process so we are simply upping the odds this cow or heifer will conceive.

Many producers want to increase their herds. Raising replacements is one way but it is costly. Another is to drive up the pregnancy in your herd by attending to the health of the uterus.

Breeding for twins is another but we all know twins, if both are sucking, pull down the body condition of the cow so putting some effort into cross adopting these cows may also lead to higher pregnancy rates.

There are a lot of things to consider but some attention paid to this group of cows after calving and a couple weeks before breeding may yield real benefits. Some uterine infusions can even be given hours after breeding so that by the time the fertilized egg gets back to the uterus at day seven the infection is cleared up. If some attention is paid to examining and treating problems or weight loss before breeding, the result could be more pregnancies. Cases not worth pursuing will also be identified.

Here’s to another successful calving season.

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.


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