Calf Loss Project: Quantifying the most common causes of calf loss in Florida
Boughton Lab in collaboration with ranchers, veterinarians, FDACS, USFWS and the Florida Cattleman
Producing and raising healthy calves is integral to profitability and success of cow-calf operations.The goal of the study is to quantify causes ofcalf loss, an essential piece of data for Florida cattlemen to make highly informed production decisions and implement measures to improve overall production and economic return. The average reported loss of 8% to the Florida industry equates to 64,000 calves a year (based on 800,000 calves) and the number could be much higher on some ranches some years. A reduction in calf loss of just 1% on average is millions of dollars recovery to the industry. After many months of preparation, the calf loss team has started collecting data on two ranches (Diamond K Cattle Company and Longino Ranch) with a third to be implemented by the end of year (Buck Island Ranch).
Identifying the most common causes of calf loss in Florida is difficult due to the high logistical issues. The question remains, how much calf loss in Florida is caused by predators (Coyote, Black Bear, and Panther) compared to other causes (disease, nutrient deficiency, still births, etc.), and where should we be focusing our efforts to reduce calf loss the most?
Since most calf loss occurs within the first 48 hours - 10 days after birth, we focused on finding tools that would allow researchers to find newly born calves and continue tracking them after birth. Our approach starts with being alerted to when a cow is about to calf, and this is achieved using birthing sensors that are monitored by a central base station. During pregnancy checks, conducted by collaborating veterinarians, each cow in the study receives a sensor placed against their cervix which remains until pushed out by parturition.
The overall objective of this research is to quantify and determine the most common causes of calf loss on Florida ranches. Specific objectives are:
Use birthing and VHF sensors to monitor calves until weaning.
Through monitoring identify all calf loss from 3 herds of 110 cows.
Determine the cause of each calf loss event through observations sampling, and necropsy.
Study is being conducted on 3 different cattle ranches over multiple years.
Birthing sensors inserted against the cervix in pregnant cows.
On expulsion during parturition sensors signal via radio and cellular gateway that a birthing event has occurred.
Researchers respond to alerts to check and record calf condition.
A VHF ear tag is attached to healthy calves and will send a mortality signal when stationary for >2 hours.
Continuous data-loggers and researchers monitor for VHF calf mortality signals .
Unhealthy calves are monitored and calves found dead are sent to Bronson Animal Disease and Diagnostic Laboratory for necropsy.
Big Cypress Ranch:
Total mortality over 100 days = 16.25%
Early losses (<7 days) associated with dystocia or bacterial infection
Total mortality over 45 days = 5.4%
Early losses associated with bacterial infection
One calf presumed to have been depredated, not found
Recommendation of panel tests to be conducted on both the cow and calf following a calf mortality event and compared to healthy cow-calf pairs.
The multi-disciplinary team conducting this research hopes to use these findings to direct further research and provide advice to reduce calf loss and economic losses for Florida Cattlemen.
The calf loss team is made up of a dedicated group of UF/IFAS researchers and extension agents, ranchers, private veterinarians, FDACS BADDL diagnosticians, and FWC and USFWS biologists. In addition, part of this research will be used to support graduate student, Kelly Koriakin.
This project was made possible by funding from the Florida Cattleman's Association. Collaborators: Gene Lollis, MAERC/Buck Island Ranch. Dr. Liz Steele and Dr. John Yelvington, Ridge Large Animal Veterinary Services. Alex Johns, Seminole Beef/Seminole Tribe of Florida. Mary-Jene Koenes, Diamond K Cattle Ranch. Heath Crum...Cliff Coddington, Longino Ranch. Wes Carlton, Fish Branch Ranch. Dr. Short and Dr. Reddi, FDACS Bronson Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. South Florida Beef Forage Program - Extension Agents, IFAS. Dr. Dave Onorato, Florida Wildlife Commission. David Shindle, USFWS. Contributors: John Balbian, JMB North America.