Take all precautions as abortion figures surge

Battling with abortions, endometritis and retained cleansings can be soul-destroying on any farm.

And with figures for these conditions on the rise, vets advise farmers to be more proactive in combating them.

NADIS figures for abortions on farms over the last three months of last year were gradually increasing, says Intervet’s vet adviser Robert Ankcorn.

Coupled with increased figures coming forward from the Vet Lab Agency for leptospirosis and infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), more farmers are looking to vaccination programmes.

But the real bugbears are bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD), as diagnosis can be difficult and Neospora, as it doesn’t have a vaccine available, he says.

Although most farmers are aware BVD is endemic and widespread, few herds can identify the problem as it doesn’t happen in surges like leptospirosis.

“Most farmers accept a small percentage loss due to abortions, but without regular bulk milk sampling, they won’t determine BVD to be the problem.”

And as Cheshire dairy producer Dale Whalley found out last year, Neospora abortions can also have a devastating effect in a herd.

“At first we weren’t sure what the cause was, but having had some of the 40 cows that aborted, re-abort – which is a common trait with Neospora – we were soon convinced.”

Mr Whalley has since learned that practising the highest level of cleanliness is paramount in preventing abortions.

“My advice to farmers would be to remove the placenta as soon as possible and not allow the farm dog to drag it round.

We now have a 1000-litre plastic drum buried in the ground which we dump all cleansings into for them to rot down and prevent spreading.”

Mr Ankcorn adds that when a cow has aborted, she should be removed from the herd as soon as possible, to prevent any possible spread.

“Particularly in today’s housing environment of loose yards and cubicles, cows can spread disease simply by sniffing each other.”
Cheshire-based vet Neil Howie says that generating a list of lost pregnancies, including when a cow has been pregnancy diagnosed and seen bulling, can help investigate the issue when outbreaks occur.

“This helps pinpoint a specific timescale where abortions happen, identifying whether it’s cleanliness, nutrition or even silage quality.”

But Mr Howie says the important factor to consider is vaccination programme.

“I see too many farmers who decide to cease vaccination after a couple of years, because they feel they have cured the problem.

They might not get a surge the following year, but it’s sure to happen at some stage.”

Often with abortions, retained cleansings and endometritis go hand in hand, reckons Tiverton-based vet Andy Biggs.

But when they occur without an abortion then attention must be paid to calving pen hygiene and cow nutrition.

“Endometritis is often associated with low levels of selenium and iodine, so altering the diet and mineral status can help.

Problem calvings will also contribute, so assessing bull selection and condition score can also prevent occurrence.”

He also advises carrying out a post-calving health check on cows that have had difficult calvings or retained placentas for longer than they should have, as well as those that have calved twins or had milk fever.

“This will help increase conception success and prevent further problems with endometritis.”