Calving season is well underway in the Ozarks, and thankfully Mother Nature, for the most part, has been kind to livestock producers.
Despite the mild weather, there can be other factors that can impact the future of a breeding program, including stillbirths or late-term abortions, but what causes them?
According to University of Missouri Extension Livestock Specialist Dr. Randall Wiedmeier, mystery surrounds many cases.
“When I was a younger man and studied reproduction in cattle and all of the things that can go wrong, I always thought it is a wonder that we have any calves on the ground,” he said. “One of my former students works at a veterinary pathology lab, and as those fetuses are coming in, in about 50 percent of those they can’t find any abnormalities, no infection that they can pick up.”
Wiedmeier said in other cases, abortions can be linked to disease, infection or even moldy hay.
Mold and bacteria, Wiedmeier explained, cause most infections and normally do not impact gestating animals, but if the mother is stressed or injured during the pregnancy, those typically minor infections can cause her to abort.
The causes that can be kept at bay the most are disease.
“Diseases like IBR (Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis), BVD (Bovine viral diarrhea) and, especially around here, Leptospirosis can cause those late-term abortions,” Wiedmeier said. “In talking with veterinarians, Leptospirosis is the biggest problem we are seeing here in South Central Missouri as far as late-term abortions, and that can be handled with the proper vaccinations.”
Vaccinations against IBR, BVD and Leptospirosis typically protect for six months, so animals should be vaccinated twice a year.
Wiedmeier added that Brucellosis (Bang’s Disease), will also cause late-term abortions, but Missouri is considered a brucellosis-free state.
Wiedmeier recommended that producers develop a relationship with a local veterinarian, who can assist in developing a vaccination protocol, and be a source of information.
“They have been trained on what to look for,” he said. “With this new Veterinary Feed Directive, it really surprises me how many producers I talk to who don’t have a relationship with their veterinarian, and that it has been four, five years since a vet as even been at their place. I think it is a good practice to have a vet out at least once a year, even if it is just to go over vaccination programs, and they have information about things going on that might impact your production.”
While the loss of a calf is not uncommon, when the number of lost offspring begins to grow, so should the producer’s concern.
“My best advice is if someone has two or three late-term abortions, they had better get with their veterinarian, and get the fetus, the placenta and other fetal tissues into the veterinarian diagnostic lab for testing,” Wiedmeier said. “You could have a big problem brewing. I recently had a call from a producer who had two or three (late-term abortions) and I told him that the flag has to go up when that happens.”
He added that he recently spoke with veterinary toxicologist who advised that producers are being urged to send fetuses and placentas to the lab for testing.
“He said it might not be just this particular farm that is having an issue. It might be something that could affect the whole area,” Wiedmeier said. “I know that a lot of people think about the expense of sending (the fetus and tissue) in, but if you think about the expense of having maybe a 50 percent loss to your calf crop, it is worth it.”


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