Post-Calving: My Dirty Job


Mike Rowe may have his own show where he gets to do a different Dirty Job every week, but do not worry, here on the ranch I can run into some rough stuff as well. This job though was definitely not the most pleasant. So be ready. I have pulled out the books for this one again… (remember Animal reproduction and physiology would be my favorite subjects)

Thursday while I was checking cattle I noticed something wrong with a cow that had calved 4 days ago. She had a retained placenta and uterine infection (endometritis). Now you may be saying “Whoa, Too Much Information!” but it is something we deal with in cattle. First, the retained placenta can be caused by a number of factors. This cow had a calf 4 days ago and everything was normal. No dystocia and the calf is healthy other than slightly noticeable having less energy. However, today I noticed tissues resembling fetal membranes exposed from the vulva. They had a slightly necrotic appearance, but the cow’s flight zone was too large for me to notice any necrotic smell. To be on the safe side, I walked her to the corral for a palpation examination.

It was indeed the placental membranes in the uterus. And there was definitely a necrotic smell. Time to sleeve up!

Normally expulsion of the fetal membranes occurs within 3 to 8 hours after calving, but can take up to 24. The placenta in a cow is attached to the uterus through cotyledons on the placenta and caruncles on the uterine wall. (The cotyledon and the caruncle combined creates a placentome.) Think of this as a velcro pad. During calving the placentome separates and allows the placenta and fetal membranes to leave the uterus. Basically in this cow, some of the placentomes failed to separate.

This could have been caused by the 40+ degree swing in environmental temperatures this week, age of the cow, low calcium levels (hypocalcemia), or numerous other factors.

Normally the uterine environment is sterile, but during calving debris and bacteria enter this environment. These materials are usually cleaned out and a sterile environment returns within a few days. This is important so the cow can continue cycling and the next pregnancy can be established. If these materials are not cleaned out of the uterus, endometritis can occur. This was the source of the necrotic smell. I will save you the grief of this picture.

Long story short, I used a naturally occuring prostiglandin (to induce activity in reproductive tract) and a corticosteroid (same classification of medicine you use for an allergic reaction or asthma attack) to clear out the remaining fetal membranes and any inflammation that may have occurred. Normally the cow would be kept up and monitored, but since she has such a large flight zone (noted when she gave me a swift boost over the fence), I decided it best to turn her back to the pasture and observe her progress from there.

Note this is what I understand of the condition from previous experience, experiences from other cattleman, and study of the subjects. A veterinarian is the one qualified to give medical advice.

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About Ryan Goodman (982 Articles)
Ryan Goodman lives in Helena, MT and comes from an Arkansas cattle ranching family. Since growing up on a family cow/calf and stocker-calf operation, he has spent the last several years learning about farming systems across the country. A graduate of Oklahoma State, Ryan is currently working on a Master's degree from the University of Tennessee. He works continuously to share his story of ranch life through community outreach and social media, all while encouraging others in agriculture to do the same.

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