Necropsies Under-Utilized in Cow/Calf Production, Say Professors


We’ve all heard that phrase, often used to console in the gruff way most ranchers know best. “When you have livestock, you have deadstock.” But that phrase places too much emphasis on the notion that the death is out of our hands. It’s not. While we must not beat ourselves up for lost animals, there’s still something that can be learned.

At the UCVM Beef Cattle Conference in June, Franklyn Garry, professor at Colorado State University (see interviews with him below) said that necropsies are “under-utilized” in the beef industry.

“I think he was specifically referring to the cow/calf industry,” explains Claire Windeyer, assistant professor in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Calgary. “I think the feedlot industry has been doing a really good job at surveillance through necropsies, but I think our cow/calf guys still haven’t embraced it as a tool within their management systems.”

Windeyer admits that not every death needs a necropsy, but that those that aren’t easily explained can benefit from some investigation.

“…if you have some of those ones where you’re maybe starting into a wreck, or…you’re seeing a lot of scours and you have a couple dead ones, you can either call your vet right away or you can at least start thinking about, ‘okay, what am I going to do if I have a couple more of these?'”

Preparing for the Vet’s Arrival:

  • Take photos of the animal where it’s found (or record where it died, how it looked, whether or not there were signs of struggle, and any blood/fluids that were present at the scene).
  • Ensure the animal to be necropsied is cool, and away from predators.
  • Make note of the animal’s age, sex, breed, history, and any clinical signs noticed prior to death.
  • Make note of any other animals that may have similar signs, or died in similar circumstances.
  • For periparturient death (calf died at calving), collect the placenta, where possible.

For ranchers who are interested, Windeyer says it’s entirely possible to learn how to do necropsies on their own operation.

“I think if people aren’t too squeamish and are willing to dig into that, it’s something that you could talk to your veterinarian, and get them to teach you how to do it, for sure.”

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