Beef Calf Stillbirth / Weak Calf Syndrome
Survey - Spring ’07
To determine if a unique set of lesions detected in Canadian beef calves are
present in similar dead calves from beef herds in the five northwestern
Calves for Sampling:
Stillborn at term or
dying within 24 hours of birth of unknown causes
Not experiencing severe
dystocia due to fetal oversize or malpresentation
integrity for histology (e.g., not slipping hair, have subcutaneous or
organ cavity gas, be malodorous or show other evidence of autolysis on
gross postmortem, such as hemoglobin imbibition).
Beef cow-calf herds in
Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming
Reasonably well managed
beef herds comprised of mostly home-raised cows using management and
feeds typical of their area
Only one calf from each
herd unless a “storm” is underway and the first calf is not
To obtain samples from
a broad area, we prefer that each beef cow-calf practitioner submit no
more that 4 calves, preferably from 4 separate herds but no more than 2
from the same herd.
Stillbirth Submission Form (24K pdf)
Please print off, fill in and submit with samples
Note that it
calls for a broader set of tissues
Pictorial Sampling Guidance (Dr. Gary Haldorson, 1 MB pdf)
Sampling kits are
available if needed
Specimen Shipping Regulations
The project will
provide a WADDL sampling kit ($15) free upon request and will pay the
sample shipping fee, the WADDL accession ($10) and the WADDL lab fees
for complete abortion workup (~$112.50 out of state) on up to 4 calves,
no more than 2 per herd, that meet the criteria above.
When the research funds
are exhausted, (~100 calves) a notice will appear here and on this
Dr. Gary Haldorson,
Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or
Perinatal calf death is a major economic cost to the
beef industry, second only to reproductive failure (Toombs et al., 1994).
Perinatal mortality occurs both at a background rate in a majority of herds
and as a “storm” in a minority. The sporadic occurrence of these storms has
long been a serious problem for beef cow-calf operations (Kasari and Wikse,
1994). The national USDA NAHMS Beef '97 survey found that of surveyed beef
herds with 100 to 299 cows (641 herds), 35% lost 2.0 to 4.9%, 21% lost 5.0
to 9.9% and 4% lost 10% or more calves preweaning (NAHMS, 1997). Of survey
herds with over 300 cows (196 herds), 42% lost 2.0 to 4.9%, 19% lost 5.0 to
9.9% and 3% lost 10% or more. The most significant causes as perceived by
the producers, accounting for 80% of the losses, were weather (20%), unknown
(17%), respiratory problems (16%), digestive problems (14%) and calving
(14%). Fully 78% of these losses occurred before 3 weeks of age.
The cause of a significant proportion of this
mortality remains unknown and thus the means for prevention also remain
unknown. Often under the label "weak calf syndrome", considerable research
has been performed to identify a primary etiology, infectious or
nutritional, for these perinatal losses that were not due to an established
primary cause, such as severe dystocia or E. coli septicemia, without
success. Information that may provide the basis for new research hypotheses
is emerging from a large Canadian study of 205 beef cow-calf operations.
Three papers from this study were recently published (Gow and Waldner, 2006,
Waldner, 2005, Waldner and Campbell, 2005).
At the 2006 Western Canadian Bovine Practitioners
Conference in Calgary, Alberta, the investigators presented their
preliminary findings with respect to perinatal calf mortality. The mean
proportion stillborn, which they defined as death at or within 1 hour of
birth, was 2.6% with the lowest 5% of the herds experiencing none and the
highest 5% of the herds experiencing 6%. The mean preweaning calf mortality
beyond this period was 3.6%, the lowest 5% of herds experiencing none and
the highest 5% experiencing greater than 8%.
In those calves whose death was not due to another
cause, such as severe dystocia or an infectious pathogen, the investigators
noted the occurrence of a unique set of associated lesions. The purpose of
this pilot survey is to determine if this unique set of lesions occurs in
stillborn and calves dying in the immediate postnatal period in beef
cow-calf herds in the five northwestern states and, if so, to estimate their
prevalence in such calves whose death is otherwise unexplained. If these
lesions are present in a significant proportion, this pilot study will
provide the preliminary data for further studies to establish the etiology
and to develop intervention strategies against this long standing problem.
Preliminary findings from the Canadian study suggest that this unique
constellation of lesions is associated with herd nutritional factors.
The WADDL accession form for abortions is modified to
include those additional samples that were collected for histology in the
Canadian study (eyelid skin, cervical spinal cord, salivary gland, sciatic
nerve; Clark 2006a, 2006b). The stillborn calves experiencing perinatal
death will be processed with the same diagnostic procedures as those
experiencing earlier fetal deaths or abortions. To capture information on
potential herd management risk factors from those herds experiencing
outbreaks we will follow-up with a management factor questionnaire modified
from the one that we used in the Neospora seroprevalence study
(Sanderson et al., 1996, 2000).
We request that veterinarians take samples from herds
that they regard as reasonably well managed herds comprised of mostly
home-raised cows using management and feeds typical of their practice area.
To increase the breadth of samples, we prefer that each herd only contribute
only dead calf unless a “storm” is underway and the first calf sampled is
not representative. To increase the likelihood of detecting the specific
lesions of interest over the other causes of death in the sampled
population, we have established the above criteria. Although in the Canadian
study mortality associated with this emerging syndrome was observed in older
calves, the likelihood of the death potentially being due to enterotoxigenic
E. coli or other causes increases significantly beyond 24 hours of
age. Severe dystocia, meaning that mechanical traction, physical
repositioning or a cesarean section were required, due to fetal oversize or
malpresentation, is well established and prevalent causes of perinatal
mortality. If stillborn, to have sufficient tissue integrity for histology
the calf cannot be slipping hair, have subcutaneous or organ cavity gas, be
malodorous or otherwise show evidence of autolysis on gross postmortem.
Upon arrival at WADDL, the samples will be processed
under normal WADDL procedures for abortions to have the best chance of
establishing the cause of. As soon as the WADDL tests are completed we will
provide them to the respective cooperating veterinarian. Two 200 gram
portions of fresh liver will be held at -70o C for later trace
mineral and vitamin analysis, depending on the presence of the target
histopathologic lesions. Per WADDL procedure, we anticipate that up to 20 of
these will be sent as a batch to the Michigan State University Diagnostic
Center for Population and Animal Health for vitamin analysis. A Tissue Trace
Mineral Screen will be performed on this same subset by the University of
Idaho Analytical Sciences Laboratory.
At the conclusion of the laboratory processing, the
results will be tabulated and the proportion of cases presenting the various
lesions summarized. At the end of the pilot study, we will provide a summary
of findings to all participants.
Clark, EG (2006a). Bovine
fetal and calfhood necropsies. 3 pgs. In: Conference Notes, Western Canadian
Association of Bovine Practitioners 15th Annual Conference,
January 19-21, 2006, Calgary, Alberta.
Clark, EG (2006b). The
benefits of bovine aborted fetal and calfhood histopathological examination.
8 pgs. In: Conference Notes, Western Canadian Association of Bovine
Practitioners 15th Annual Conference, January 19-21, 2006,
Gow S, Waldner C (2006). An
examination of the prevalence of and risk factors for shedding of
Cryptosporidium spp. and Giardia spp. in cows and calves from
western Canadian cow–calf herds. Vet Parasitol 137(1-2):50-61.
Wikse SE, eds.
(1994). Perinatal Mortality in Beef Herds. Vet Clin North Am Food
Anim Pract. 10(1), 185 pgs.
NAHMS (1997). Part II:
Reference of 1997 Beef Cow-Calf Health & Health Management Practices, page
14. On-line at http://nahms.aphis.usda.gov/beefcowcalf/beef97/bf97pt2.pdf on
website Beef Cow-Calf index page at
Sanderson MW, Gay JM
(1996). Veterinary involvement in management practices of beef cow-calf
producers. J Am Vet Med Assoc 208(4):488-91.
Sanderson MW, Gay JM,
Baszler TV (2000). Neospora caninum seroprevalence and associated
risk factors in beef cattle in the northwestern United States.
Toombs RE, Wikse SE, Kasari
TR (1994). The incidence, causes, and financial impact of perinatal
mortality in North American beef herds. Vet Clin North Am Food Anim Pract.
Waldner, CL (2005).
Serological status for N. caninum, bovine viral diarrhea virus, and
infectious bovine rhinotracheitis virus at pregnancy testing and
reproductive performance in beef herds. Anim Reprod Sci 90 (3-4):
Waldner CL, Campbell JR
(2005). Use of serologic evaluation for antibodies against bovine viral
diarrhea virus for detection of persistently infected calves in beef herds.
Am J Vet Res.66(5):825-34.