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Uterine health

Calving can be “a dirty business” and bacterial invasion of the uterus immediately after parturition is common.  Simple anatomy and the loose consistency of faeces mean that cows are more prone to contamination than other species.  In fact, it is thought that the vast majority (80-90%) of intensively housed cattle undergo contamination at or soon after calving.

Not all of these contaminations will lead to infection - but certain risk factors can be identified which increase the likelihood of infection persisting and adversely affecting herd fertility, e.g.:

  • intervention at calving
  • stress
  • metabolic disorders/LDAs

 This results in: 

Metritis- an acute infection occurring typically in the first two weeks after calving. The cow is usually off-colour with a poor appetite, high temperature and reduced milk yield. Thin, foul smelling discharge is usually present.

Clinical endometritis- this is a localised chronic infection of the uterine lining characterised by an abnormal discharge (whites) occurring typically from two to three weeks post-calving onward.  Approximately 1 in 5 cows will develop this condition.

Sub clinical endometritis- a low grade infection or scarring of the uterine lining which may only be detected by veterinary examination yet is a common cause of repeat breeding and failure to conceive. Worryingly, recent studies have shown that sub clinical endometritis could be a lot more widespread than realised.

Uterine infections have many effects on the cows’ fertility:

  • Taking longer to come into oestrus with delayed first service                 >15 days 
  • Lower conception rates                                        <20%

  • Taking longer to become pregnant                       + 30 days

  • More likely to be culled for infertility                       + 3%

  • Reduced milk yield

Employing the “At Risk” approach allows early identification of those cows developing endometritis.

 

 Checking these cows post calving allows identification of potential infection and treatment before she comes round for….. 

The At-Risk approach

Present any cow as listed below to the vet 21-30 days post-calving during the routine fertility visit:

  • Twins
  • Dead calf (or one dying within 24h)
  • Difficult or assisted calving
  • Retained cleansing – those retained beyond 24h after calving
  • Abnormal vulval discharge, particularly if >2 weeks after calving
  • Metabolic disorders (e.g. milk fever, ketosis)
  • Any other post-calving disease such as mastitis 

service. This could save up to £70 per cow.

Prevention:

  • Utilise the At-Risk approach
  • Early treatmentis essential to minimise the impact of infection
  • Good hygiene at and around calving
  • An optimal transition period is essential, metabolic disorders will have a negative impact on the cow’s immunity and so susceptibility to developing infections, particularly of the uterus.
  • Monitoring of dry matter intake (DMI) and body condition score (BCS) around calving and early lactation for energy balance.

 

Planning a fertility review next time one of the vets visits would be a good starting point.  Then, by reviewing your figures an action plan can be put in place to minimise fertility problems such as endometritis and help improve performance.