Dystocia and body condition score

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Dystocia occurs when a cow or heifer has a difficult time giving birth. Heifers have more of a problem with dystocia than cows, regardless of the operation’s genetic program, says Chris Reinhardt, PhD, Kansas State University. The total percent of calf mortality due to dystocia has increased between 1991 to 2005, according to data from the National Animal Health Monitoring System’s Beef 2007-2008 study. Reinhardt adds that NAHMS data shows that half of the calves in the country are from herds under 50 head, total calf mortality due to dystocia is higher in the 1-49 head herds.

Failure of passive transfer in calves can be caused by dystocia and poor cow nutrition/body score condition (BCS) at calving. Reinhardt says poor body condition at calving is a welfare issue for heifers and cows, and the follow occurs at different body condition scores:

  • If under a BCS of 5, the cow or heifer will produce less and poorer quality colostrum.
  • Under a 4, she will have less stamina during parturition and might quit in a difficult calving situation. The calf itself will have a lower energy supply during and after parturition.
  • Under a BCS of 5 there can be decreased calf survival.


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