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Management strategies helpful in preventing pregnancy loss in cattle

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

“What’s the tipping point for controlling pregnancy loss?” asked Steve Hendrick, consulting veterinarian at Coaldale Veterinary Clinic.

Hendrick served as one of the presenters for a discussion on pregnant cow management hosted by the Beef Cattle Research Council, where he focused on pregnancy loss prevention and control.

“We have all of the bugs and different things that can cause abortion on one side, and we’ve got other management factors on the other side that all play into pregnancy loss, as well. We often have to take a multipronged approach to address these,” he said.


Although they don’t provide 100 percent protection, Hendrick described vaccination programs as “an insurance policy” for producers.

When deciding what to vaccinate for, he suggested considering what organisms the herd may be exposed to.

“Of course, we would like to prevent every infectious disease, but we need to give some thought to what our animals might get exposed to,” said Hendrick. “I would advise producers to work with a vet in their area that is familiar with what diseases are to come up with the proper protocol.”

Deciding what pathogens are priorities will impact the timing of vaccine administration.

“It’s difficult to fit the timing of all bacteria and viruses as different pathogens affect different stages of gestation,” he continued.

Vaccine safety

He noted that it is important for cattle to be exposed to bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) virus vaccines previously if producers intend to vaccine pre-calving. He also cautioned against vaccinating with too many gram-negative bacteria vaccines at the same time.

“If we’re going to use scours vaccines and decide to combine those with the pre-calving vaccines, be careful,” said Hendrick. “Some of the bacteria that are in the vaccines we use are gram negative. We call it gram negative stacking, which occurs when we have too many of these organisms in the vaccines, which can result in the animal aborting in reaction to the vaccines.”

While discussing vaccine efficacy, he referenced a 2015 study that found that vaccinating for BVD decreased abortions by 45 percent, fetal infections by 85 percent and increased pregnancy rates by five percent.

“I think there is value in using them. We don’t know always when we’re going to get exposed,” said Hendrick.


Proper nutrition is an important factor for preventing and controlling pregnancy loss, particularly ensuring that animals have access to quality feed and water said Hendrick.

“That means testing our feed and water. It’s surprising how much variability is in our forages year to year,” he said. “Then, we can use that information to our advantage and balance rations accordingly.”

If producers are concerned about mycotoxins, Hendrick advised being cautious about grain screenings.

“In all fairness, I do think some of the pelleting mills do a good job of trying to identify loads with obvious evidence of contamination, but it is still something to be aware of,” said Hendrick

Especially in the third trimester, it is important for cows to have access to minerals to replace those being utilized by the growing fetus.

“I would love to see mineral in front of the cows year-round, but if producers have to pick a time, I think starting two or three months before calving and extending into when they start calving, lactating and to turnout is best, if possible,” he continued.


Implementing strong biosecurity protocols is also important for pregnancy loss prevention and control, especially in communal grazing situations.

“It seems like a boring topic, but realize that, if producers are using communal grazing pastures, they need to be doing screening of our bulls for trich and vibrio,” commented Hendrick.

Some producers elect to cull animals that abort as part of their biosecurity protocol.

“Culling may be something that we consider for some of these animals that abort if we’re not sure what’s going on. We may choose not to give them another chance,” he said.

Quarantining animals from the rest of the herd is also a viable option, particularly if an infectious agent is suspected.

“There are causes that are an infectious process, and if we can get them separated off, it becomes less of an issue for the entire herd,” concluded Hendrick.

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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