Perinatal mortality (PM) generally refers to death of full-term calves shortly before, during, or within 24-48 hours after parturition (calving). This includes "stillbirth,” a term commonly used when calves never take the first breath. Many genetic and non-genetic factors have been identified, but dystocia (a difficult or abnormal calving) is consistently identified as the primary cause of perinatal mortality.
In addition, dystocia may contribute to death of a calf up to 4 months of age due to internal injuries sustained at birth, lack of oxygen to the brain during delivery, or failure of passive transfer. Dystocia rates vary among cattle populations; considerable differences exist among the cattle breeds as well as among individual herds. Maternal, fetal, environmental, and management factors influence PM. Many of these factors are beyond the control of a producer such as parity (number of calves the cow has already had), presence of twins, and abnormal fetal presentation such as a backwards or breech calf.
However, many risk factors can be controlled by the farm manager to decrease the incidence of weak or stillborn calves. Newborn vitality is essential to the health, survival and welfare of the calf. If the calf is not strong at birth, it may be unable or unwilling to get up and suckle colostrum in a timely manner.
You might also like: