Perinatal mortality in 23 beef herds in Orkney: incidence, risk factors and aetiology

Rhona Norquay, Jayne Orr, Bob Norquay, Kathryn Amanda Ellis, John F Mee, Aaron Reeves*, Sandra Scholes and Tim Geraghty

Background: Perinatal mortality in beef calves impacts on profitability and animal welfare, but the incidence and causes in UK herds are not well known.

Methods: Data from 11 herds were analysed to establish the risk factors for and incidence of perinatal mortality (full-term calves born dead or died within 48 hours). To establish cause of death, 23 herds in total submitted dead calves for postmortem examination (nine herds submitted all calves, 14 herds submitted calves on an ad hoc basis) and the results were reviewed by a panel.

Results: The incidence of perinatal mortality for all 1059 calvings was 5.1 per cent (range 1.6–12.4 per cent across herds; median 4 per cent). The incidence of stillbirth and neonatal mortality was 3.9 per cent (range 0–10.1 per cent) and 1.2 per cent (range 0–2.6 per cent), respectively. Sex of the calf, plurality and level of calving assistance were associated with significantly greater risk of perinatal loss. Parturition-related deaths (n=20), intrauterine infections (n=13), congenital malformations (n=6) and postpartum infections (n=6) were among the diagnosis recorded from 54 calves investigated. Parturition-related deaths and congenital malformations were recorded more commonly from herds submitting all losses than from those submitting on an ad hoc basis.

Conclusion: Variation in perinatal incidence across herds exists and many fail to reach the 2 per cent target. Some significant risk factors and common causes of death identified have the potential to decrease perinatal mortality rates through improved herd management.

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