Doc’s Blog

Rising Dairy Cow Mortality

    A recent article in a national dairy magazine bemoaned the fact that dairy cow mortality is on a steady rise.   Death losses in the 1970s ranged from 1% to 5 %.  It now average from  6% to 8% —  with a high of 15% in some dairies. 

    The author opined that this industry wide increase  suggests  veterinarians and producers do not have the information needed to manage the problem.  Most dairymen do not necropsy  dead cows.  They may have a reasonably accurate total death count but not accurate records of the cause of death.  

    To remedy this lack, two veterinarians from Colorado and Washington State Universities have put together a protocol to help dairymen accurately record and codify all deaths — they even have a nifty Cow Death Certificate upon which to record the pertinent information. I think this is a great idea — information is needed to make a diagnosis.  

    However, I am concerned it may be too easy to make a casual diagnosis and not delve deeply into underlying causes  of death — we need to look deeper that the obvious and not record the “straw that broke the camels back” as the cause of death rather than the weight and content of the full load being carried. 

    Since about half of dairy cows calve with either a metabolic or an infectious disease, I’m betting a lot of the causes will be listed as mastitis, pneumonia, metritis, hypocalcemia, ketosis, or other common “diseases” that are actually symptoms of stress or an impaired immune system.

    Is it really any wonder dairy cows average only two lactations?  We have taken an animal that evolved as a forage grazer that had a multitude of plants to chose from as it roamed ove, wide areas.  We have genetically modified this animal to produce an inordinate amount of milk — we feed it a ration composed or only four or five ingredients, mostly legume hay and grain.  As a final insult we confine her to small, cement floored spaces with little opportunity for exercise.  

dead cow

    She can accommodata  such adverse conditions for a while, but soon is overwhelmed and stressed out,  She gives up and checks out.   It will probably be recorded she died because of a bacterial infection.  Go figure!