All dairy cows eventually leave the farm. Ideally, they leave as healthy animals, either being sold for production or sold for slaughter when they are no longer productive. Some cows die on the farm. Dairy producers who recognized their on-farm losses were higher than normal approached our program for help in understanding why these losses were occurring. Looking at dairy records it became clear that there was a wide variation in death losses between farms, but also showing that typical death loss percentages had risen over the last several decades.
On-farm death of adult dairy cows is a significant problem for both economic and animal welfare reasons. These losses and their causes are not carefully monitored or evaluated on most dairies leaving producers and veterinarians without the information needed to manage them. The reasons cows die are multiple and complex, necessitating an improved approach to diagnosis, information management and analysis.
Below are several articles written for dairy producer publications that encapsulate our work:
- How to Deal with Adult Cow Death Losses (PDF)
- Cows Don’t Just Die (PDF)
- Play Sherlock Holmes (PDF)
- One for the Record Books (PDF)
We approached this problem from multiple directions. We studied specific reasons why cows die on farms by performing necropsy of dead cows and identifying causes of death. Additionally, we developed alternative ways to evaluate death losses on farms. We studied the epidemiology of death losses to look for association of high rates of loss with other herd and management features.
We developed improved methods for identifying cause of death in order to allocate the losses to specific things the dairy can change to improve animal health and welfare and assure minimal losses. We developed a dairy cow certificate of death for this purpose and also a coding mechanism that producers can use to monitor causes of death.
View a brief description of the rationale for a death certificate, a copy of the death certificate, and the coding chart for use in tracking death losses plus culling/removals:
- Dairy mortality records (PDF)
- Dairy certificate of death (PDF)
- Coding guide for removal records (PDF)
We believe all producers should monitor overall death percentages, perform necropsy on dead cows to determine cause of death, and track these causes to identify improvements that can be made on farm.