Determining the real cause of death is important in preventing future death loss and improving the health of the herd. Necropsies allow for the fastest detection of new problems on a dairy, and they help management focus on what needs to done to reduce death loss.
What is a necropsy?
A necropsy, also called a post-mortem exam or autopsy, is an examination of a dead animal.
It is performed to obtain an accurate cause of death and, when done properly, involves looking at the animal as a whole, as well as looking at each individual organ within the body. Careful examination and sampling of organs helps determine the cause of death, whether it is by disease or trauma.
More than 50 percent of cows that die are misdiagnosed. “Unless a necropsy is performed, the diagnosis made by the producer is at most an educated guess,” says Angela Daniels, veterinarian at Circle H Animal Health in Dalhart, Texas.
How do I perform a necropsy?
Necropsies should be performed within 24 hours of death, and it’s not always possible to have a veterinarian available on that short of notice.
But it is possible for a dairy producer or one of his or her employees to gather tissue samples for a veterinarian to evaluate. And with today’s technology, employees can perform a necropsy with a veterinarian on the phone. Or, digital pictures can be taken and discussed at a later date.
“Some information is better than no information,” says Garry. The key is to develop a broader group of people to perform a necropsy when a veterinarian cannot be there. As a result, the workforce will be more aware of unexplained deaths and do what it can to prevent them.
It is common practice in beef-cattle feedlots for personnel to perform necropsies and report
findings to a veterinarian.
Step-by-step tutorials on how to perform a necropsy are available online from Colorado State University and the University of Nebraska.
- Dairy Cattle Necropsy Manual (PDF format) - Colorado State University
- No Loose Parts Necropsy Procedure for the Feedyard - Dee Griffin, University of Nebraska
Or, you can order a CD by contacting Frank Garry, professor of veterinary medicine at Colorado State University, James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, 300 West Drake, Fort Collins, Colo., 80523, phone: (970) 221-4535 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Work with your rendering facility
Disposing of a carcass after a necropsy can be challenging, as most renderers don’t like picking up these animals. However, the value received from a necropsy outweighs the challenges.