How do I deal with the problem of retained placenta in my cows?

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I have a small dairy farm and I am following all the best practices in dairy farming. Mine is a zero-grazing lot with four mature dairy cows and another four growing heifers. Three of the cows calved down in 2011-2012 – all for the first time. All deliveries went well and there were no problems except for postpartum (after birth) pneumonia. They were treated and all recovered well. Now all of them have calved down the second time. But strangely, all three had problems of placenta retention. They get all the minerals they need: I feed them with 200 – 300g daily of Ungaphos® or Maclick Super® mineral mixture. I make my own dairy meal mix according to the best-known formulations with due additions of toxin binders, yeast, and cattle pre-mix. That all three showed the same problem makes me doubt if there is something wrong in my maintenance practice. Please advise.

It is hoped you understand and appreciate that retained afterbirth is usually defined as failure to expel the foetal membranes within 24 hours of giving birth. Under normal circumstances, expulsion takes place within 3 to 8 hours after delivery of the calf. The incidence of retained placenta in healthy dairy cows is 5 to 15%. The problem may be increased by abortion, difficult calving, milk fever, twin births, advancing age of the cow, pre-mature birth, inflamed placenta and various nutritional disturbances.With regard to the latter, note that deficiencies of selenium, vitamin A, copper and iodine increase the incidence of retained placenta. Therefore, providing selenium prior to calving reduces the incidence of retained placenta. The incidence of retained placenta is usually higher in overweight cows.

In a normal calving, degeneration and loosening of the placenta begins during late pregnancy and at calving; changes in uterine pressure, reduction in blood flow and physical flattening of the uterine caruncles (lining) during uterine contractions lead to final loosening and expulsion of the fetal membranes.Cows which fail to drop the afterbirth within 36 hours are likely to retain it for 7 to 10 days. This is because substantial uterine contractions do not proceed beyond 36 hours after birth of the calf, and if the membranes have not been expelled by this time, their subsequent separation from the uterine wall can only occur as a result of the rotting of the afterbirth connections to the uterus. Foul smell is a a sign of retained placenta. Their expulsion then depends on the speed of the normal shrinking of the uterus. It is normally easy to diagnose a cow with retained placenta by looking at the degenerated, discolored and unpleasant-smelling membranes hanging from the vulva more than 24 hours after calving, one can confirm a case of retained placenta. Occasionally, the retained membranes may remain within the uterus and may not be readily apparent, but their presence is usually signaled by a foul smelling discharge. I would advise that if the cases are not complicated they would not require treatment. Further note that manual removal of retained fetal membranes in the cow is NOT recommended and is potentially harmful. Ideally stimulating uterine contractions by the use of drugs such as oxytocin or prostaglandins to expel the retained placenta is the most rational treatment.

Do not remove placenta manually. Should manual removal be decided upon, one may attempt to remove the placenta, if favorable circumstances are present, otherwise it always advisable to seek attention of a veterinarian to examine the animal and decide the best course of action.In summary, first time calving cows are classified as growing heifers but after the second calving they become mature milkers. Therefore, if your management and mineral feeding was perfect, check for the weight because it may be responsible for the placenta retention in your herd.Sometimes, there is a genetic connection. Cows, which retain their placenta in the presence of a nutritionally balanced diet, should be considered for culling. I hope this is not the case with your herd. When unusually high incidence of afterbirth retention occurs in a herd, then an investigation to determine the common cause should be instituted. All retention cases, irrespective of the method of treatment should be examined by a veterinarian, about 30 days after calving, and any signs of uterine infection treated by uterine infusion of antibiotics.For that matter, a veterinarian should have checked your cows 30 days after calving and instituted proper treatment.

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