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Herd Health Considerations for Maximizing Reproductive Outcomes

DES MOINES, Iowa (Sept. 8, 2016) — Abortions, and especially those occurring mid- and late-term, are a source of frustration for cow-calf producers and their veterinarians. According to Iowa State University veterinarian Tyler Dohlman, abortion occurs among 2% to 3% of beef females in the United States. Higher occurrence definitely demands investigation. However, Dohlman says investigation of the first abortion occurring in a given herd may be the key to successful intervention.

According to Iowa State University veterinarian Tyler Dohlman, abortion occurs among 2% to 3% of beef females in the United States.

In a presentation during the Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle symposium, Sept. 7-8 in Des Moines, Iowa, Dohlman talked about health considerations for enhancing reproduction, and particularly about considerations for minimizing abortion. He noted the many potential causes of abortion, including infections, reaction to toxins, misuse of vaccines, nutritional deficiencies or genetic abnormalities. Plus, he lamented the fact that many causes go undiscovered.

“For the most part, little has changed in the last 20 years, even though diagnostic tools have gotten better and vaccination programs have reduced the viral component in disease-related abortions,” said Dohlman. “Still, about 70% of abortion cases result in no diagnosis.”

According to Dohlman, diagnostic tests are only as good as the evidence that comes to the laboratory. In many cases only an aborted fetus is submitted, and maybe only part of a fetus. Often, the placenta is not submitted. Too often, there is no background information regarding breed or herd health and management history.

“It’s a pet peeve of mine that the diagnostic lab often does not receive enough material or information to find an answer,” stated Dohlman. “If labs always received the placenta, I think we could take that 70% (of cases that can’t be diagnosed) down to 40%. In many cases the placenta is that valuable to diagnosis.”

Dohlman allowed that, in reality, the placenta or other tissues may be impossible to recover. However, he advised producers to observe the following procedures when abortion occurs:

  1. 1. Identify the individual animal with appropriate identification and isolate from the herd.
  2. 2. Collect/Recover aborted tissue including fetus and placenta — always wearing gloves due to
    potential zoonotic risks.
  3. 3. Call a veterinarian as soon as possible to get them involved and submit adequate tissues that will
  4. increase chances of getting a definitive diagnosis.
  5. 4. Talk to the diagnostician at the laboratory of choice, to make sure there is adequate information and tissue samples.
  6. 5. Package and chill samples and get samples to diagnostic lab ASAP — never freeze samples because that could prevent accurate diagnosis.

To effectively use the information coming back from the lab, Dohlman advised producers to seek their veterinarian’s help in devising a plan to prevent or minimize future occurrences. This may involve revisiting the herd health management program, including vaccination protocols and biosecurity measures.

“Many abortion causes can be mitigated through management,” emphasized Dohlman.

Dohlman spoke during Thursday’s ARSBC morning session focusing on health and well-being. Visit the Newsroom at, which features comprehensive coverage of the symposium, to view his PowerPoint, read the proceedings or listen to the presentation. Compiled by the Angus Media editorial team, the site is made possible through sponsorship by the Beef Reproduction Task Force.

Editor's Note: This article was written under contract or by staff of Angus Media. To request reprint permission and guidelines, contact Shauna Rose Hermel, editor, at 816-383-5270.