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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2003

Causes of stillbirth and time of death in Swedish Holstein calves examined post mortem

Berglund B, Steinbock L, Elvander M


This study was initiated due to the observation of increasing and rather high levels of stillbirths, especially in first-calving Swedish Holstein cows (10.3%, 2002). Seventy-six Swedish Holstein calves born to heifers at 41 different farms were post mortem examined in order to investigate possible reasons for stillbirth and at what time in relation to full-term gestation they had occurred. The definition of a stillborn calf was dead at birth or within 24 It after birth after at least 260 days of gestation. Eight calves were considered as having died already in uterus. Slightly less than half of the examined calves (46.1%) were classified as having died due to a difficult calving. Four calves (5.3%) had different kinds of malformations (heart defects, enlarged thymus, urine bladder defect). Approximately one third of the calves (31.6%) were clinically normal at full-term with no signs of malformation and born with no indication of difficulties at parturition or any other reason that could explain the stillbirth. The numbers of male and female calves were rather equally distributed within the groups. A wide variation in post mortem weights was seen in all groups, although a number of the calves in the group of clinically normal calves with unexplained reason of death were rather small and, compared with e.g. those calves categorised as having died due to a difficult calving, their average birth weight was 6 kg lower (39.9 +/- 1.7 kg vs. 45.9 +/- 1.5 kg, pless than or equal to0.01). It was concluded that the cause of stillbirth with a non-infectious aetiology is likely to be multifactorial and difficult calving may explain only about half of the stillbirths. As much as one third of the calves seemed clinically normal with no obvious reason for death. This is a target group of calves that warrants a more thorough investigation in further studies

Published in

Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica
2003, Volume: 44, number: 3-4, pages: 111-120