Data that reveal the expected calving difficulty for specific bulls within breeds can generate huge cost savings in the long run for all producers in the industry, say experts at the University of Minnesota. Therefore, they say, if you get a handle on your herd's calving difficulty, you can make decisions that reduce financial loss.

The cost of difficult calving in individual herds can be large depending on the 'degree' of difficult births. In a study conducted in three Colorado dairies with over 7,000 observed calvings, more than one half of the births by first-calf heifers required some assistance. Calves born with difficulty were 15 times more likely to also be stillborn than calves born without assistance, were 1.7 times more likely to experience a respiratory disease, 1.3 times more likely to have a digestive disease, and more than 6 times more likely to die within the first 120 days.

Difficult calving, especially of first-calf heifers, increases veterinary costs and farm labor and reduces reproductive efficiency and milk production during the subsequent lactation. A study of more than 50,000 Holstein births in Spain revealed that first-calf heifers were 17 percent more likely to be culled after a difficult calving. Additionally, cows that experienced calving difficulty incurred replacement costs that were more than $100 per cow greater than herdmates.

Calving ease is an economically important trait. The Net Merit index now places breed-wide emphasis on calving ease of Holsteins. You should consider sire calving ease and daughter calving ease when selecting AI bulls, and keep individual animal records to track calving difficulty.

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Source: University of Minnesota