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Good Management Reduces Cows Deaths

Good management includes providing cattle with adequate protection in the winter. (NDSU photo) Good management includes providing cattle with adequate protection in the winter. (NDSU photo)
Good management means giving cows adequate nutrition, health care and protection from bad weather.

Some cattle deaths are inevitable, but with good cow management, those losses should be rare, according to John Dhuyvetter, a North Dakota State University Extension Service area livestock systems specialist.

Good cow management includes a variety of factors. Cattle should receive:

  • Balanced nutrition (including water) that supports appropriate body weight and condition
  • Wind protection and bedding to lessen the impacts of brutal weather
  • Preventive health care, including vaccinations against potential infectious disease; treatments for early detected foot, eye and respiratory infections; and biosecurity measures when introducing new animals to the herd

“Timely culling also is considered a best management practice,” says Dhuyvetter, who is based at the North Central Research Extension Center near Minot. “Cows with structural problems contributing to less mobility and competiveness with herd mates, along with advancing age and loss of body condition or early signs of chronic degenerative disease, should prompt their culling and herd removal.”

He recommends that cattle producers seek help if they experience a higher than normal number of animal deaths or find cows dead for no apparent reason. Research indicates that producers experience, on average, a death loss of 1.6 percent of brood cows annually.

“The herd’s veterinarian can be crucial in evaluating the situation, providing further diagnostics and suggesting remedial management,” he says. “Feed testing and working with a nutritionist or consulting an Extension agent or specialist may be helpful as well.”

If producers have dead cattle, they have several options for handling the carcasses, including burning, burying or composting.

“It is difficult to create a hot and intense enough fire for complete burning, and for much of the year, burying in frozen ground is difficult,” Dhuyvetter says. “Therefore, compositing has become a preferred method of handling dead cows and can be accomplished by laying the dead animal on a bed of old feed, bedding and manure, and appropriately covering them.”

Specific information on composting dead livestock is available in the NDSU Extension publication “Animal Carcass Disposal Options” (

NDSU Agriculture Communication - March 31, 2017

Source:John Dhuyvetter, 701-857-7682,
Editor:Ellen Crawford, 701-231-5391,
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