Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria (INIA) Spanish Journal of Agricultural Research 2013 11(3): 718-735

Available online at www.inia.es/sjar ISSN: 1695-971-X
http://dx.doi.org/10.5424/sjar/2013113-4140 eISSN: 2171-9292

Effects of main reproductive and health problems
on the performance of dairy cows: a review
N. Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh
Department of Animal Science. Faculty of Agricultural Sciences. University of Guilan.
P.O. Box 41635-1314. Rasht, Iran

Abstract
This review focuses on the potential effects of twinning, dystocia, stillbirth, abortion, retained placenta and metritis
on the productive and reproductive performances in dairy cattle. These are diverse disorders that are similar in that
they all can result in impaired performance of dairy cows. Reproductive problems occur frequently in lactating dairy
cows and can dramatically affect reproductive efficiency in a dairy herd. Poor reproductive performance is a major
cause of involuntary culling and therefore reduces the opportunity for voluntary culling and has a negative influence
on the subsequent productivity of a dairy herd. Reproductive performance is influenced by the interactive effect of
environment, management, health, and genetic factors. In addition, diseases mainly affect dairy cow productivity by
decreasing reproductive efficiency, shortening the expected length of productive life and by lowering milk production.
Deciding whether to breed, treat, or cull dairy cows showing one or more of these problems is a challenge for both
veterinarians and dairy producers. In addition, there is considerable debate among dairy scientists and bovine
practitioners regarding the economic impact of these problems in a dairy operation and the most effective management
or therapeutic intervention for treating them. Because of this controversy, dairy managers should focus on prevention
and control of risk factors associated with each problem rather than on prescriptive therapeutic interventions.
Additional key words: dairy cow; diseases; reproductive disorders; productive performance; reproductive perfor-
mance.

Introduction producers. In addition, there is considerable contro-
versy among dairy scientists and bovine practitioners
Reproductive efficiency is a critical component of regarding the economic impact of these problems in a
a successful dairy operation and acts as an important dairy operation and the most effective management or
component of a profitable dairy farm, whereas repro- therapeutic intervention for treating them. Because of
ductive inefficiency is one of the most costly problems this controversy, dairy managers should focus on
facing the dairy industry today. Reproductive problems prevention and control of risk factors associated with
occur frequently in lactating dairy cows and can dra- each problem rather than on prescriptive therapeutic
matically affect reproductive efficiency in a dairy herd. interventions. Dairy producers should work closely
Some of the most common problems include twinning, with their herd veterinarian to develop such manage-
dystocia, abortion, stillbirth, retained placenta and ment strategies and discuss appropriate interventions
metritis. These are diverse disorders that are similar in when necessary (Fricke, 2001).
that they all can result in impaired reproductive func- Low fertility reduces the profit by decreasing the
tion. Deciding whether to breed, treat, or cull dairy average milk production and the number of calves per
cows exhibiting one or more of these reproductive cow per year. Poor reproductive performance is a major
problems is a challenge for both veterinarians and dairy cause of involuntary culling and therefore reduces the
* Corresponding author: nhosseinzadeh@guilan.ac.ir; navid.hosseinzadeh@gmail.com
Received: 28-02-13. Accepted: 12-07-13.

Abbreviations used: ACTH (adrenocorticotropin hormone); BCS (body condition score); CVM (complex vertebral malformation);
DIM (days in milk); DMI (dry matter intake); FPI (foeto-pelvic incompatibility); FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone); HDL (high
density lipoprotein); MET (metritis); NEB (negative energy balance); RP (retained placenta); UMPS (uridine monophosphate
synthase).
Effects of main reproductive and health problems on the performance of dairy cows: a review 719

opportunity for voluntary culling and has a negative dystocia, stillbirth, abortion, retained placenta and me-
effect on the future productivity of a dairy herd. Re- tritis) on the subsequent performance of dairy cows.
productive performance is influenced by the interactive
effect of environment, management, health, and gene-
tic factors (Gröhn & Rajala-Schultz, 2000; Roxström Twinning
et al., 2001).
Parturition is intimately interlocked with lactoge- Cattle (Bos taurus) are uniparous species meaning
nesis in all mammals. In dairy cows, it marks the start that, in most cases, females produce only one offspring per
of the lactation and therefore the beginning of the pregnancy (Komisarek & Dorynek, 2002). Twinning
productive cycle and is essential to the long-term sus- occurs relatively rarely, with the frequency generally
tainability of the farm. However, it is also a high-risk not exceeding 1% in most beef herds. However, in
time for both mother and offspring leading to high dairy herds, the incidence of twin births is higher (on
veterinary and labor costs for the dairy cattle industry average 3 to 5%), and is strongly affected by age and
when complications occur. While complex physio- parity of the dam (Day et al., 1995; Komisarek &
logical changes are occurring in the mother, the off- Dorynek, 2002; Silva del Río et al., 2007; Ghavi
spring has to make the transition from fetal life to Hossein-Zadeh et al., 2008, 2009). Ghavi Hossein-
extra-uterine life which can prove to be challenging. Zadeh et al. (2008) reported parity of dam, season of
Parturition in cattle is a complex process that is trigge- calving and previous incidence of twinning were po-
red by the fetus and managed by a cascade of hormonal tential risk factors for twinning in dairy cows.
actions and physiological changes (Senger, 2003). The incidence of double births may have both po-
Therefore, it seems logical that when complications sitive and negative effects, which mainly depends on
occur, this has potential effect on normal bodily func- the purpose for which cattle are raised (Komisarek &
tions. It also provides newborn heifers that will become Dorynek, 2002). A beef cow can wean more total calf
future lactating animals. Calvings are therefore sources weight by raising twins. Twin births offer the potential
of short and long-term income to producers. for increased beef production efficiency, if sustainable
The transition period is generally recognized as the changes in management can be made to accommodate
most critical period of the lactation cycle for a dairy problems inherent with twinning (Kirkpatrick, 2002).
cow. The endocrine and physiological changes that In addition, increased frequency of twinning would
accompany parturition and the onset of milk produc- increase the potential for obtaining more progeny from
tion negatively affect immune function and dry matter a genetically-superior female, thereby allowing those
intake (DMI). As a result of nutrient demand for milk females to play a larger role in a selection program
production increasing faster than DMI, cows experien- (Cady & Van Vleck, 1978). The importance of this con-
ce a period of negative energy balance of varying dura- dition can be expressed along with the application of
tion and intensity. Early lactation is also a critical time technologies controlling the sex of calves. In the other
for metabolic disorders, of which most occur during words, the use of embryo technologies and sexed se-
the first 2 wk postpartum (Goff & Horst, 1997). The men leads to significantly more female calves (Ghavi
extent of negative energy balance is related to the in- Hossein-Zadeh et al., 2010, 2011). This allows dairy
cidence and severity of most metabolic disorders, such producers to select among their herd’s potential dams
as ketosis, displaced abomasum, retained placenta, and and produce dairy replacement heifers from only the
susceptibility to infections (Grummer et al., 2004). In genetically superior animals and promotes enhanced
addition, improved energy balance has been proven to rates of genetic gains (De Vries et al., 2008). However,
result in greater reproductive efficiency through earlier most authors today would agree that twin pregnancies
resumption of ovulatory cycles (Butler, 2005). Early are undesirable in a dairy herd (Bicalho et al., 2007;
resumption of cycles is important because conception López-Gatius et al., 2009; Andreu-Vázquez et al.,
rates increase with successive cycles (reviewed by Butler, 2012). However, twin birth is disadvantageous for most
2003). Enhancing nutrient intake seems, therefore, im- beef and dairy producers because of its association
perative to maximize health and reproduction of peri- with a number of unfavorable effects, including lower
parturient cows. potential calf survival, increased culling rate and
This review addresses the possible consequences of poorer cow reproductive performance (Fricke, 2001;
some reproductive and health problems (twinning, Bell & Roberts, 2007; Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh et al.,
720 N. Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh / Span J Agric Res (2013) 11(3): 718-735

2008, 2010a; Andreu-Vázquez et al., 2012). The risk incidence of dystocia, stillbirths, and retained placenta
of pregnancy loss increases and the profitability of the (Beerepoot et al., 1992; Echternkamp & Gregory,
herd diminishes drastically as the frequency of twin 1999). Wiltbank et al. (2000) proposed that high milk
births increases (López-Gatius et al., 2002; Lopez- production increases steroid metabolism as a result of
Gatius & Hunter, 2005). One impact of twinning is a an increased blood flow to the digestive tract and the
reported reduction in the number of fertile heifers avai- liver. The subsequent metabolism of the steroid
lable for use as replacements in the dairy herd. This estradiol slows down the natural decline in follicle-
decrease arises from increased neonatal calf mortality stimulating hormone (FSH), which means that follicles
of twins and a skewed gender ratio resulting in more have more time to undergo physiological changes
homozygous male pairs (Fricke, 2001). Regarding cow before ovulation (Wiltbank et al., 2000). The practical
performance, twinning is associated with increased implication of the relationship between milk pro-
dystocia (Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh, 2010b), increased duction and twinning in dairy cattle is important
incidence of retained placenta, higher mortality rates, because current dairy-management strategies aim to
frequent occurrence of freemartins and longer interval maximize milk production per cow in the dairy indus-
from parturition to first estrous (Kirkpatrick, 2002; try. If twinning is related to milk production, this in-
Echternkamp et al., 2007; Silva del Río et al., 2007). crease would not be unexpected considering the increases
Freemartinism in heifers results from twinning when in milk production per cow over the years as a result
embryonic membranes of a male and female conceptus of genetic selection and artificial insemination. Other
fuse during gestation resulting in exchange of blood studies reported a negative association or non-associa-
between the male and female fetuses. Endocrine fac- tion between milk production and twinning in dairy
tors or cells from the male calf cause abnormal deve- cattle (Deluyker et al., 1991; Bell & Roberts, 2007).
lopment of the reproductive organs of the female calf A possible explanation for reduction in milk produc-
resulting in infertility. Freemartinism occurs in about tion after twin calvings was probably due to increase
92% of heifers born as a result of heterosexual twin in the incidences of metabolic disorders experienced
pregnancies (Buoen et al., 1992). Thus, about 8% of by cows calving twins during the early stages of lac-
heifers from heterosexual twin pregnancies will be tation. In effect, longer calving to conception intervals
fertile, presumably because the fetal membranes fail and higher culling rates have been reported for cows
to fuse or because membrane fusion occurs after the delivering twins compared with cows delivering
critical period of reproductive organ differentiation (Buoen singletons (Bicalho et al., 2007). The interval from
et al., 1992). Dystocia with twins resulted likely from calving to conception (days open) is a summary measu-
abnormal presentation of head and (or) legs for one or re that is influenced by several factors (i.e., voluntary
both twin fetuses at parturition. The increased inci- waiting period, estrus detection rate, conception rate)
dence of fetal malpresentation with twins may result such that it is an intermediate factor and should not be
from the higher circulating concentrations of proges- considered a control point in the management of the
terone and estradiol found in cows gestating multiple incidence of twins. A hypothesis as to how the interval
fetuses (Echternkamp, 1992). Also, cows calving twins from conception to diagnosis of pregnancy may be
are at greater risk for metabolic disorders including associated with the risk of twinning is that twin preg-
displaced abomasum, and ketosis (Fricke, 2001). The nancies may be more fragile and both pregnancies may
presence of twins has been described as the main be lost if cows are palpated earlier. Under this hypo-
negative factor of a noninfectious nature affecting thesis, a positive association between twinning rate
pregnancy maintenance (López-Gatius et al., 2002, and the length of this association would be found
2009; López-Gatius & García-Ispierto, 2010). For because cows pregnant with twins and palpated earlier
example, the risk of pregnancy loss during the first would be more likely to abort. It is now clear that twin
trimester of gestation for cows carrying twins is three pregnancies reduce herd profitability. The real eco-
to nine times higher than for cows carrying singletons nomic impacts of twinning are probably on the rise be-
(López-Gatius et al., 2002, 2009; López-Gatius & cause twinning rates have increased considerably over
García-Ispierto, 2010). Higher milk production related the past 20 yr and estimates currently run at 9%, or
to twinning is controversial (Beerepoot et al., 1992; even 12% in some herds (Silva del Río et al., 2007).
Bicalho et al., 2007; Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh, 2010b), Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh (2010b) observed twins had the
and this possible benefit will never outweigh the higher lower birth weight than singletons. The reduction in
Effects of main reproductive and health problems on the performance of dairy cows: a review 721

birth weight for twin calves was probably because of improve economic gains considerably. The total eco-
the reduced gestation length among cows calving twins nomic costs attributable to a severe case of dystocia
(Day et al., 1995; Echternkamp & Gregory, 1999). have recently been estimated at up to €500 per case
(McGuirk et al., 2007).
There are different causes and risk factors associated
Dystocia with dystocia in dairy cattle which can result from both
maternal and foetal factors. The most common reason
Dystocia, more commonly known as difficult cal- for dystocia results from a physical incompatibility
ving and defined as prolonged or difficult parturition, between the pelvic size of the mother and the size of
is a problem most dairy producers encounter (Mee, the calf at birth, also called foeto-pelvic incompati-
2004, 2008a). There is a wide range of definitions for bility (or FPI) (Meijering, 1984; Mee, 2008a). This is
dystocia ranging from need for assistance to conside- largely influenced by the weight and morphology of
rable force or surgery to extract the newborn (Mee, the dam and the calf, respectively. The pelvic area
2008a). There are several ways to assess difficulty at available at birth is affected by the size of pelvis but
parturition (also referred to as calving ease in cattle). also by fatness of the dam which might partially obs-
Categorical scoring scales that allow for different truct the birth canal. The calf ’s physical factors contri-
degrees of difficulty are commonly used across species buting to a size mismatch between the calf and the dam
with ordinal scales with 3 to 5 rating points being po- may include a calf of a big size or malpresentation.
pular in cattle (Mee, 2008a). Lower scores are usually These morphological factors are themselves dependent
given to the easiest births (also called eutocial) and upon different variables including the age, breed and
highest scores to the most difficult ones. For example, parity of the dam, twinning, the sex and weight of the
in the Iran, dystocia evaluations in the Holstein Frie- calf, the sire and breed of the calf as well as the nu-
sian breed are currently performed using the following trition of the dam during gestation (Meijering, 1984;
5 point scale: 1 = unassisted, score 2 = slight assistance, Hickson et al., 2006; Mee, 2008a; Zaborski et al.,
score 3 = considerable assistance, score 4 = conside- 2009; Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh, 2010b). Dams with low
rable force needed, and score 5 = caesarian (Ghavi calving weight as well as abnormally low or high body
Hossein-Zadeh, 2010). On the other hand, in the UK, condition score can result in difficulty at parturition
genetic evaluations in the Holstein Friesian breed are as well (Philipsson, 1976b). Adequate body condition
currently performed using the following 4 point scale: score at calving for both primiparous and multiparous
“1 = easy; 2 = assisted; 3 = difficult; 4 = vet assisted” dams (BCS of 2.5 to 3, when assessed on a 5 point
(Eaglen et al., 2011). Because definitions of dystocia scale) ensures optimization of ease of delivery and sub-
vary in the literature, it is not surprising that there is sequent performance. Primiparous cows are known to
variation in the international prevalence rates of have greater risk of difficulty than multiparous cows
calving difficulty. Internationally, reported prevalence (Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh, 2010b; Gaafar et al., 2011),
in dairy cattle of severe or considerable difficulty in partly because of their smaller size and pelvic size. It
calving vary from just below 2% to over 22%. How- is recommended that first calving takes place between
ever, assistance at calving (including lower degrees of 22 to 24 months of age to optimize subsequent perfor-
difficulties) is much more prevalent, varying from 10% mance and ease of delivery (Le Cozler et al., 2008;
to over half of the calvings (Mee, 2008a). The Berry & Cromie, 2009). In order to avoid cases of FPI,
evaluation of costs associated with dystocia scores it is particularly important for the animal caretaker to
enables dairy producers to predict the average future mate primiparous animals with bulls that are not
economic loss when an incident of dystocia is reported expected to sire very large calves. This can be achieved
in the herd, allowing the producer to evaluate the re- by making an informed choice on their genetic poten-
lative importance of dystocia in individual herds. By tial for their expected ease of calving. Even if FPI is
realizing the importance of dystocia in a herd, a produ- the major reason leading to difficulty at calving, dys-
cer can take appropriate measures to maximize profit, tocia can result from other causes that interfere with
such as selecting sires for calving ease for heifer the expulsive forces needed to expel the calf. This
matings (Dematawewa & Berger, 1997). Dematawewa includes: lack of uterine contractions (weak labour),
& Berger (1997) concluded the use of sires that were incomplete dilation of the cervix and vagina due to
selected for calving ease for heifer matings could stenosis (narrowing and stiffening of the tissue) and
722 N. Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh / Span J Agric Res (2013) 11(3): 718-735

uterine torsion. Risk factors for weak labor include In the most severe cases, dystocia can lead to the
hormonal imbalances such as reduction in plasmatic death of the cow, usually occurring within 48 hr (Dob-
oestradiol concentration, high levels of oestradiol-17ß son et al., 2008). Even beyond those 48 hr, cows that
at parturition (Sorge et al., 2008) or high ratios of corti- have experienced dystocia are more likely to die or be
sol to progesterone. These imbalances can decrease culled in early lactation and over the lactating period
expression of oxytocin receptors in the uterus as well (Dematawewa & Berger, 1997; Tenhagen et al., 2007;
as changing the preparation of the soft tissues, causing López de Maturana et al., 2007b; De Vries et al.,
weak uterine contractions and weak dilatation of soft 2010). Furthermore, the fear that the animal might ex-
tissues (Sorge et al., 2008). Calving difficulty has a perience difficulty at her next parturition may increase
genetic underlying component certainly because many weight to the farmer’s decision to cull a dystocial cow.
factors that are accounting for FPI are also under ge- Cows experiencing difficulty at birth are more likely
netic control. The genetics of calving difficulty are to suffer from postpartum diseases such as metritis,
complex because it is a combination of both maternal retained placenta and milk fever (Benzaquen et al.,
effects (also called grandsire effects) and effects from 2007). This could be explained by the possibility of
the sire of the calf (also called sire effect or direct microbial contamination during assistance (Dohmen
effect) (Meijering, 1984).Thus, the sire of the calf et al., 2000) combined with a depressed immune status
partly explains the birth weight of the calf and its during the peripartum period. This highlights the im-
morphology. Additionally, variables such as the pelvic portance of good hygiene when intervention at calving
size of the dam, the length of gestation and calving is required. Immunodeficiency is probably enhanced
weight result partly from the dam’s sire. The herita- in dystocial cows as a consequence of the increased
bility of calving difficulty (which means the probabi- duration of labour and the subsequent higher cortisol
lity of transmission to the following generation) is levels (Civelek et al., 2008). Nakao & Grunert (1990)
quite low with estimates of both direct and maternal studied the adrenocortical function of beef cows
heritabilities being estimated between 0.03 and 0.20 through adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) challen-
(Meijering, 1984) but mostly reported below 0.12 in ge postpartum for different degrees of calving diffi-
dairy cattle (e.g. Steinbock et al., 2003; Eaglen & culty. They found higher reactivity of the hypotha-
Bijma, 2009; Eaglen et al., 2010a) and in beef cattle lamic-pituitary-adrenal axis for cows having experien-
(Bennett & Gregory, 2001; Eriksson et al., 2004). ced severe dystocia. They suggest that this could
There are negative correlations between direct and increase the susceptibility of the uterus to infection through
maternal effects (Philipsson, 1976a), which means that the anti-inflammatory action of corticosteroids. As
genetically, a heifer prone to be born easily will be well, this might be responsible for causing temporary
more likely to have difficulty when she calves herself. metabolic disturbances in cows and delaying ovarian
It is therefore challenging to f ind the right balance recovery and uterine involution. As hormones involved
between the ease with which a cow calves and with in reproductive function closely interact with hypo-
which her female offspring will herself calve when she thalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis regulation, this can be
reaches adulthood. This result is also controversial and related to impaired fertility. In fact, a prolonged second
has not been found consistently across populations stage of labour resulted in depressed reproductive
(Eaglen & Bijma, 2009). High genetic correlations are performance in both beef and dairy cattle (Dobson et
also observed for calving difficulty between first and al., 2001). An increase in the number of days open, the
later parities (Carnier et al., 2000; Eriksson et al., number of services to conception and a delay to first
2004). This means that similar genes and mechanisms service has been shown after dystocia (Dobson et al.,
may be involved in both parity levels and that some 2001; López de Maturana et al., 2007a). This impaired
cows may be more genetically predisposed to dystocia. fertility after dystocia is thought to contribute to 30%
However, the heritable variance explains only 10% of of the cow related costs of dystocia (Dematawewa &
the phenotypic variance (Eaglen & Bijma, 2009). As Berger, 1997).
a consequence, although selection against diff icult It has been shown that calving difficulty reduces
calving is possible and should be encouraged, non- milk yield in the cow. It is not clear however, how long
genetic factors (called environmental factors) are also the adverse effect on milk production lasts for. In fact,
of great importance in the implementation of preven- although some authors seem to find a deleterious effect
tive measures against dystocia (Barrier, 2012). on the overall lactation of cows (Dematawewa &
Effects of main reproductive and health problems on the performance of dairy cows: a review 723

Berger, 1997; Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh, 2013), some stu- et al., 2004). Within the group of calves that die
dies have suggested that these effects disappear beyond perinatally, 90% would be alive at the start of the
14 days in milk (DIM) (Rajala & Gröhn, 1998), 90 calving process and three quarters of the deaths occur
DIM (Thompson et al., 1983) or six month postpartum within an hour of birth (Mee, 2008b,c), thus emphasi-
(Tenhagen et al., 2007). Furthermore, the degree of zing how critical the birth process and early hours of
difficulty from which milk losses are reported ranges life can be. Dystocial stillbirths usually result from
from slight degrees of diff iculty (Dematawewa & internal and external trauma (Berglund et al., 2003;
Berger, 1997) up to only in severe cases when surgery Aksoy et al., 2009) but also from prolonged hypoxia
is needed (Tenhagen et al., 2007). Additionally, the (deprivation of adequate oxygen supply) (Meijering,
magnitude of losses has been suggested to be greater 1984; Mee, 2008c). There are also concerns about the
with increasing degrees of difficulty (Dematawewa & beef and dairy calves that survive the birth process.
Berger, 1997). However, the pattern with which milk Indeed, survival is not just compromised in the peri-
losses vary is not always obvious and other factors such natal period but there is also evidence that their survi-
as the overall yield or parity of the cow (Rajala & val can be affected in the neonatal period (Lombard et
Gröhn, 1998) might influence it. As well, it is common al., 2007) and for their lifetime for the more severe
for studies looking at milk production losses after a degrees of difficulty (Henderson et al., 2011). In the
difficult calving to restrain their datasets to animals neonatal period, severe hypoxia and acidosis (Alonso-
with full lactations or that have survived until a certain Spilsbury et al., 2005; Civelek et al., 2008), impaired
lactation stage. breathing (Breazile et al., 1988) and internal injuries
During the lactating period, dry matter intake was (Berglund et al., 2003; Gundelach et al., 2009; Mee,
shown to decrease in cows that had experienced dys- 2010) may contribute to low vigour (Riley et al., 2004)
tocia in the months postpartum (Bareille et al., 2003) and subsequent poor survival. Additionally, dystocial
compared to cows that calved normally, but this was calves may not thermoregulate properly (Bellows &
not seen in the first two days postpartum (Proudfoot Lammoglia, 2000) and achieve lower passive immu-
et al., 2009). This could relate to lower milk production nity. This may relate to higher morbidity (Steenholdt
observed in dystocial animals but also to the greater & Hernández, 2004; Lombard et al., 2007) and
losses in weight and body condition score found in possibly altered growth (Goonewardene et al., 2003).
dystocial cows during their subsequent lactation (Berry Furthermore, it is likely that the experience of diffi-
et al., 2007). According to the authors, this may be re- culty at birth may have long-term effects on heifer
lated to changes in the metabolic function and lower calves. It is well-known that the early life experiences
immunocompetency in these animals (Barrier, 2012). can have longterm implications for the performance,
To that extent, the experience of dystocia in Holstein cognition, health and welfare of the individuals among
dairy cows is also associated with haematological diverse species including ruminants and cattle (Vinue-
changes at delivery relating to hepatic function. For la-Fernández et al., 2007). Recently, evidence has
example, dystocial Holstein heifers had higher cortisol, emerged from retrospective studies that dystocia could
cholesterol, glucose, high density lipoprotein (HDL), also have potentially long-term effects on dairy heifers.
triglycerides, creatinine and vitamin A levels than Reduction in survival rates and milk production were
eutocial animals, which might reflect higher calving seen when they reach an adult age (Eaglen et
stress in these animals (Civelek et al., 2008). It is al., 2010b; Heinrichs & Heinrichs, 2011; Henderson
possible that such stress but also exhaustion, pain and et al., 2011). There are many potential threats to
human intervention during delivery may contribute to achieving good standards of welfare for the dam and
reduced or delayed maternal care of the calves in the her calf (or calves) after a diff icult calving. These
first hours postpartum, as observed in ewes (Dwyer et include pain during parturition as a result of calving
al., 2001; Fisher & Mellor, 2002). injuries, painful health conditions, injuries at birth but
At birth, having to make the transition from foetal also distress following poor health, breathlessness,
life to extra-uterine life is a challenging experience in hypoxia and potential hypothermia. These in turn
mammals. Animals born from difficult births are more might result in poor production and survival. Possible
likely to fail that transition and become stillborn or die long-term alteration of the development of the dairy
within the few days of life (Meyer et al., 2001; Johan- calves following birth difficulty is also likely (Barrier,
son & Berger, 2003; Berglund et al., 2003; Eriksson 2012).
724 N. Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh / Span J Agric Res (2013) 11(3): 718-735

Abortion production. Calving intervals over 14 months will pro-
duce loss of greater than 10% in average producing
Abortion in dairy cattle is commonly defined as a dairy herds. Often the causes of these abortions are
loss of the fetus between the age of 42 days and appro- very difficult to determine resulting in a lot of frustra-
ximately 260 days (Peter, 2000). The diagnosis of abor- tion for the dairymen and their veterinarians. Expect
tions often presents a challenge to the herd owner and that only 30-50% of submissions to veterinary diagnos-
the herd veterinarian. Although a gradual increase in tic laboratories will yield a definitive diagnosis. Most
the abortion rate in a herd may be noted over a period dairies experience an observable abortion rate of from
of many years, a sudden and dramatic increase is more 2-5% yearly. Despite ongoing research investigations
commonly seen. For this reason, prompt and thorough to diagnose and evaluate the epidemiology of infec-
action is required when abortions do occur. Well kept tious factors that cause abortion, breeders are still con-
records will often be of benefit during the investigation fronted with abortion continuously. Hovingh (2009)
of abortion problems. Breeding dates, parity, produc- listed numerous causes of abortion: infectious agents
tion information and health events (e.g., disease or (bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi), toxic agents,
vaccination) can all help to identify factors which may heat stress, and genetic abnormalities. Twin pregnan-
be associated with the abortions. Other herd level in- cies (Nielen et al., 1989) and mastitis (Santos et al.,
formation such as ration changes, new additions, per- 2003) have also been implicated. Infectious agents are
sonnel changes, etc., should also be recorded. This kind the most commonly diagnosed cause. Jamaluddin et
of information should be kept in a readily accessible al. (1996) examined 595 abortion submissions in Ca-
format on all dairy farms and will serve many func- lifornia and found that infectious agents accounted for
tions in addition to being useful for investigating abor- 37.1%; noninfectious agents, 5.5%; and undetermined
tion problems. causes, 57.3%. Among the 37.1% due to infectious agents,
Abortions represent a loss of reproductive efficiency bacteria accounted for 18.0%; protozoa, 14.6%;
in normal bovine populations and spontaneous abor- viruses, 3.2%; and fungi, 1.3%. In Canada, Khodaka-
tion of dairy cows is an increasingly important problem ram-Tafti & Ikede (2005) indicated that the three most
that contributes substantially to low herd viability and common identifiable infectious agents were bacterial
production ineff iciency by reducing the number of (24%), fungal (7%), and viral (6%). Several recessives
potential female herd replacements and lifetime milk detrimental to reproductive performance have been
production, and by increasing costs associated with confirmed and documented for several dairy breeds.
breeding and premature culling (Thurmond et al., An example of a genetic abnormality that causes abor-
2005). Fetal mortality for cows confirmed pregnant tion is the complex vertebral malformation (CVM)
between 35 and 45 days of gestation typically has ran- gene in Holsteins (Agerholm et al., 2001). The CVM
ged from 8 to 10% (Forar et al., 1996), with abortion gene causes malformations in middle to late gestation.
often exceeding 14% in some herds (Thurmond et al., However, most of these infectious factors have been
1990; Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh et al., 2008). While in- brought under control by appropriate vaccination.
fectious diseases are a primary focus of abortion pre- Moreover, successful etiology diagnosis of abortion
vention, infectious agents probably cause less than half shows less than half of the fetal death (Geoffrey et al.,
of the fetal deaths. The cost of abortion varies accor- 1992; Markusfeld-Nir, 1997; Thurmond et al., 2005).
ding to such effective factors as the time of gestation, Non-infectious factors include genetic and non-genetic
milk production, days in milk, the time of insemination disorders that have been reported in some investi-
after parturition, the cost of nutrition, sperm costs, gations. Heat stress, production stress, and other unfa-
insemination time, and labor costs, which differ from vorable conditions including seasonal effect and season
region to region (Rafati et al., 2010). Abortions during changes, especially summer are the most important
early pregnancy result in increased days open. Follo- non-genetic factors (Labernia et al., 1996; Markusfeld-
wing late term abortions, there is a loss of potential Nir, 1997; Hansen, 2002; López-Gatious et al., 2002;
replacement heifers. These late term abortions often Bitaraf Sani & Amanloo, 2007). Genetic disorders in-
result in early culling of productive cows. Moreover, clude chromosomal and single gene disorders. Contra-
extended calving intervals reduce production. Increa- ry to human chromosomal disorders, which result in
sing the calving interval from 12 to 13 months may about 50% abortion, in farm animals the rate is lower,
result in a loss of 2-5% of the herd’s potential calf but a sterile calf can result (Geoffrey et al., 1992).
Effects of main reproductive and health problems on the performance of dairy cows: a review 725

Mutation in codon 405 of the uridine monophosphate in Dutch dairy herds. Hanson et al. (2003) and Thur-
synthase (UMPS) gene is the putative example of sin- mond et al. (2005) observed the higher number of days
gle gene disorders (Fries & Ruvinsky, 1999). Different open decreases the risk of abortion. Uterine involution
non-infectious maternal and paternal factors have been in cows due to previous pregnancy’s outcome (success-
reported for fetal death; for example cow parity (Lee ful parturition, dystocia, retained placenta and abor-
& Hwa Kim, 2007), sire effect (Markusfeld-Nir, 1997), tion) is different. Inhospitable uterine environment
age at conception (Thurmond et al., 1990, 2005; seen in dairy cows as a result of common problems such
Hanson et al., 2003), and abortion history (Hanson et as endometritis and retained placenta increase the risk
al., 2003; Thurmond et al., 2005). In a study on Iranian of abortion (Hanson et al., 2003). Additionally, in the
Holsteins, Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh & Ardalan (2011a) first two to three months of production cows are faced
reported normal-calved cows had greater 305-d milk with negative energy balance, especially those with
production, fat yield and protein yield of milk than high milk yield (Ghorbani & Asadi-Alamoti, 2004).
abortive-calved cows. But abortive-calved cows had They lose weight during this period which can cause
the greater milk fat percentage than normal calved a reduction in body condition score with a correspon-
cows. Also, they observed that the risk of abortion was ding negative correlation with progesterone secretion,
higher at the 5th month of pregnancy for parities 1 and harmful to fetal survival (Grimard et al., 2006). Abor-
2, but this risk was greater at the 4th month of pregnan- ted cows are at 3.2 times higher risk of being culled;
cy for cows in their third parity or beyond. Thurmond however, only 1 out of 6 are recorded as “culled for
et al. (1990) reported the greatest risk of fetal loss is abortion”. Aborted cows if not culled have 5 times
during the first trimester of gestation and then pro- more likely to abort subsequently than cows that never
gressively decreases as gestation advances with a slight aborted. If one calculates the conception to conception
increase in the risk toward the last month of gestation. interval, it is 173 days on an average. On average it
Forar et al. (1996) reported the cumulative incidence takes 72 days for a cow to conceive after an abortion,
of fetal loss between 31 and 260 days of gestation is however, there is a gestation age effect. As gestational
10.8%. Of this only 20% of the fetal losses are detected age increased, time to rebreed increased. In the first
by observation of an expelled fetus or fetal membranes trimester abortion it took 54 days to rebreed and 85
and the proportion detected increases with increasing days in the second semester abortion and 116 days in
gestational age at time of fetal loss. Thurmond et al. the third semester abortion. The basis of cost estima-
(2005) reported the predicted probability of abortion tion is to determine the number of days open plus the
increased with increasing dam age at conception, with gestational days at the time of abortion. It can range
increasing number of previous abortions, and if the from 150 to 225 days or more for a herd. Cost of open
previous pregnancy was aborted > 60 days in gestation. day estimate can be used to obtain the loss and inclu-
Also the predicted probability of abortion decreased sion of veterinary intervention and medication can pro-
with increasing number of days open. vide the total loss due to abortion (Peter, 2000).
Continued increases in milk production over the last
two decades in dairy herds have been concurrent with
an increase in abortion rate over the years so that Ghavi Stillbirth
Hossein-Zadeh et al. (2008) reported there was increa-
sing trend for the odds of abortion over the years in Stillbirth was defined as a calf loss from day 260
Iranian Holsteins. Also, they observed that greater odds until the end of normal gestation period. Trait defi-
of abortion existed for singleton births and cows in nitions vary slightly between countries, with most
their fourth and greater lactations than other parities. defining stillbirths as those calves born dead or dying
Previous studies reported the greater abortion rates for within 24 h of parturition (Philipsson et al., 1979),
twin calves than singleton calves (Guerra-Martinez et although Germany and the United States include deaths
al., 1990; Day et al., 1995; Echternkamp & Gregory, within 48 h of birth (Berger et al., 1998). Breed diffe-
1999), but Mee (1991) reported the abortion frequen- rences play a role in perinatal mortality (Philipsson,
cies being 1.81% and 1.20% for single and twin births, 1976b), and Rossoni et al. (2005) reported that 10%
respectively. Bartels et al. (2006) reported 0.72 kg d–1 of Italian Brown Swiss calves did not suckle by the
decrease in milk production during the first 100 days third meal offered postpartum, contributing to increa-
of lactation in the first year after the abortion epidemic sed postnatal mortality. Incidence rates and heritabi-
726 N. Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh / Span J Agric Res (2013) 11(3): 718-735

lities were similar when comparing parities across 2004). Stevenson & Call (1988) reported that cows ex-
countries despite differences in trait definition, with periencing stillbirths were at increased risk for a num-
the exception of Sweden (Steinbock et al., 2003). The ber of postpartum disorders such as prolapsed uterus,
overall incidence of calf stillbirth in Holstein cows of retained placenta, metritis, and displaced abomasum.
Iran was reported to be 4.9% and varied among herds Correa et al. (1993) also reported increased odds of
from 2.9 to 9.8% (Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh et al., 2008). developing metritis and retained placenta for cows that
The incidence of stillbirth parturition in dairy cows had stillbirth. It is possible that the higher incidence
seems to have increased in recent years (Meyer et al., of postpartum disorders may decrease the survival of
2000, 2001; Hansen et al., 2004; Bicalho et al., 2007; cows that had stillbirths. Also, it is likely that the dead
Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh et al., 2008). During the past 20 calf inside the uterus is accelerating intrauterine
years an increase from about 6 to 10.3% has occurred bacterial growth which would cause metritis. Further-
in the incidence of stillbirth in the USA (Berglund et more, retained placenta and metritis have been asso-
al., 2003). Meyer et al. (2001) reported the percentage ciated with decreased milk yields. Bicalho et al. (2007)
of stillborn calves in primiparous cows increased from observed that cows with stillbirth were at a 41% increa-
9.5% in 1985 to 13.2% in 1996 and increased from sed hazard to die or to be culled from the herd than
5.0% to 6.6% from 1985 to 1996 for multiparous cows. cows without stillbirth. Analyzing a large data set from
Hansen et al. (2004) reported the overall frequency of the Quebec Dairy Herd Analysis Service, Mangurkar
stillbirth in Danish Holsteins increased from 0.071 to et al. (1984) reported that perinatal deaths led to higher
0.090 during 1985 to 2002. The great variation in the culling rates due to lower milk production and impaired
incidence of stillbirth by farm suggests that manage- reproductive performance when compared to normal
ment practices (breeding, genetic selection, husbandry, calvings. Few studies have attempted to determine the
etc.) adopted by individual farms may influence the effects of stillbirth calvings on the dam’s subsequent
incidence of stillborn calves (Bicalho et al., 2008). survival and days open. Mangurkar et al. (1984), using
Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh et al. (2008) observed greater a mixed linear model statistical procedure, reported
odds of stillbirth existed for calves born from primi- that cows that gave birth to stillborn calves had increa-
parous cows than from multiparous cows and for calves sed risk of being culled and less chance of getting
born as twins than singletons. Hansen et al. (2004) pregnant. Bicalho et al. (2007) reported stillbirths sig-
cited that the higher incidence of stillbirth in f irst- nificantly increased the risk of death/culling throughout
parity cows was due to the disproportion between the the lactation. Cows that gave birth to stillborn calves
size of the calf and the dam’s pelvis, which caused had a 40.9% higher hazard rate of death/culling compa-
difficult calvings. Meyer et al. (2000) reported that red with cows that gave birth to live calves. Mangurkar
calving difficulty, gestation length of 15 to 12 d below et al. (1984) reported a milk loss from perinatal deaths
the mean, and male calves were important risk factors of 100-400 kg of milk, 4-11.5 kg of fat, and 2.5-13 kg
for stillbirth. Bicalho et al. (2007) and Meyer et al. of protein. Bicalho et al. (2008) estimated daily milk
(2001) reported a significant decreasing trend in the loss was 1.1 kg which is equivalent to 335.5 kg for a
incidence of stillbirth by parity in Holstein dairy cows. 305-day lactation. A review of the literature by
Also, different studies indicated that male calves had Fourichon et al. (1999), reported that out of the five
significantly more stillbirths than heifer calves (Mee, publications reviewed two papers reported no effect,
1991; Heins et al., 2006; Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh et al., and three papers reported a detrimental effect of still-
2008). This effect is probably due to greater body size birth calvings on milk production. Milk losses attri-
of male calves than female ones at birth. The economic buted to stillbirth calvings were much higher in the
loss due to lost calves increased from 1985 to 1996 due beginning of the lactation and by the 9 th month of
to the increase in incidence of stillbirths from 9.5 to lactation there was little apparent milk loss (Bicalho
13.2% in primiparous and 5.0 to 6.6% in multiparous et al., 2008). Atashi (2011) concluded that stillbirth
cows (Meyer et al., 2001). The economic loss is even significantly decreased milk and fat yields in Iranian
greater if the detrimental effects of stillbirth on the Holsteins (loss of 591.43 ± 69.19 kg milk and 13.77 ±
dam’s lactation performance are considered. Stillbirths 2.57 kg fat per cow per lactation). The biology of how
were associated with increased risk of developing me- stillbirth calvings may affect milk production is thus
tritis and retained placenta (Emanuelson et al., 1993), far unknown. As mentioned by Mangurkar et al.
and with decreased risk of conception (Maizon et al., (1984), it is possible that stillbirth initiates a cascade
Effects of main reproductive and health problems on the performance of dairy cows: a review 727

of effects that will detrimentally affect the cow’s per- (i.e., by increasing culling risk), and 3) by lowering
formance, but it is also possible that there are common milk yield (Rajala & Gröhn, 1998). Numerous studies
causes to calf mortality and dams’ poor performance. (e.g., Erb et al., 1985; Gröhn et al., 1990) have shown
For instance, in humans maternal obesity is a well that diseases related to the reproductive tract (dystocia,
known risk factor for stillbirth; obese pregnant women retained placenta, and metritis) are interrelated and can
are at 2.1 times higher odds of having stillbirths when affect the length of calving interval, the number of days
compared to normal weight pregnant woman (Chu et open, and the reproductive efficiency in general. These
al., 2007). Chassagne et al. (1999) reported that body- diseases can also affect the overall productivity of dairy
condition score ≥ 4 was an important risk factor for cows by reducing milk yield. A cow was considered to
stillbirth. Furthermore, heifers are at a greater risk of have retained placenta (RP) when the fetal membranes
been over conditioned around parturition than adult were visible at the vulva or were identified in the uterus
cows; hence, heifers are at higher risk for stillbirth or vagina by vaginal examination more than 24 h after
parturitions than older cows (Hansen et al., 2004; the first observation of the cow or heifer following
Bicalho et al., 2007). Obese heifers are potentially calving. The condition of retained placenta occurs in
more susceptible to dystocia, ketosis, and other 4 to 18% of calvings (Markusfeld, 1987; Esslemont &
metabolic diseases. Circulating neutrophils play an Kossaibati, 1996). Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh & Ardalan
important role in the rejection of the placenta and in (2011b) reported the mean frequency of retained
uterine defense in the postpartum; the prepar- placenta ranged from 3.5% in first lactation to 6.9%
tum circulating neutrophil count for heifers that in third lactation cows. In the USA, RP was reported
experienced stillbirth parturition was lower than for to be the third most common health disorder in dairy
heifers that did not have stillbirth (Chassagne et al., cows, affecting 7.8% of lactating cows (Goff, 2006).
1999). In these scenarios, stillbirth would be confoun- Calving problems including dystocia (Gröhn et al.,
ded with the effect of over-conditioning heifers on 1990; Correa et al., 1993; Emanuelson et al., 1993),
milk production and therefore would not be a true stillbirths (Markusfeld, 1987; Correa et al., 1993), and
cause of decreased milk production. multiple births (Markusfeld, 1984; Correa et al., 1993)
Stillbirth has been shown to be heritable (Philipsson, are associated with an increased incidence of retained
1976b; Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh, 2011) and this means placenta. In addition to these problems, abnormalities
that stillbirth is a potential trait to include in a breeding in partus, parity (Markusfeld, 1984; van Werven et al.,
program. Hansen et al. (2004) reported an unfavorable 1992), gestation length (Muller & Owens, 1974; Mar-
trend of direct and maternal genetic effects for still- kusfeld, 1984), calving season (Muller & Owens, 1974;
births in the Danish Holstein population. In that study, Markusfeld, 1984), and nutrition (Laven & Peters,
the use of Holstein Friesian sires was the main cause 1996) are also considered risk factors for retained pla-
for the increased stillbirth incidence. One of the best centa. Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh & Ardalan (2011c) repor-
management practices to reduce stillbirth parturition ted abortion was the most important risk factor for RP
may be utilizing sire and daughter calving ease infor- and other risk factors for RP were dystocia, stillbirth,
mation when selecting sires to breed heifers. Herd ma- milk fever, twin births, pluriparity, winter season and
nagers should review calving procedures with their ve- shorter gestation length of dairy cows in Iran. However,
terinarian to assure that proper timing and calving some researchers have found no association between
assistance techniques are used when providing assis- dystocia (Erb et al., 1985), cow parity (Muller & Owens,
tance during parturition. In addition, providing a good 1974), or calving season (Grohn et al., 1990) and the
environment for heifers and cows to minimize stress incidence of retained placenta.
before parturition can reduce stillbirth incidence Rajala & Gröhn (1998) reported retained placenta
(Atashi, 2011). had a signif icant negative effect on milk yield for
several weeks after calving, which is in agreement with
results of several other studies. Lucey et al. (1986)
Retained placenta and metritis found that retained placenta suppressed milk yield for
about 4 wk after calving, and Rowlands & Lucey (1986)
Diseases mainly affect dairy cow productivity in reported that retained placenta reduced peak yield, but
three ways: 1) by reducing reproductive efficiency, 2) also had a more lasting negative effect. They estimated
by shortening the expected length of productive life a 7% reduction in 305-d yield for cows with retained
728 N. Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh / Span J Agric Res (2013) 11(3): 718-735

placenta. In the study of van Werven et al. (1992), older endometritis cases occurred just after the occurrence
cows showed decreased milk yield with an increase in of retained placenta (Markusfeld, 1984). Erb et al. (1985)
the duration of retention of the placenta. Simerl et al. found an indirect association between the occurrence
(1992) found milk yield in f irst lactation to be de- of ovarian cyst and retained placenta mediated by endo-
pressed by retained placenta. Deluyker et al. (1991) metritis. Han & Kim (2005) reported the occurrence
reported that retained placenta was followed by of metabolic disorder (abomasal displacement, milk
lowered mean values for yield during the first 5 d after fever, or ketosis) was greater in the retained placenta
calving. Martin et al. (1986), however, found no yield group than in the control group. Cows with retained
effect from retained fetal membranes. They used 305 d placenta have previously been reported to have a higher
milk yield as their milk measure. The indirect negative incidence of abomasal displacement and ketosis
effect of RP on milk yield mediated by puerperal me- (Markusfeld, 1987) compared to cows without retained
tritis is reported by Könyves et al. (2009). placenta, although one report did not find a relation-
Retained placenta, one of the main causes of ship between retained placenta and abomasal displa-
endometritis in cattle, causes economic loss (Kaneene cement (Correa et al., 1993). Retained placenta has
& Miller, 1995). Kossaibati & Esslemont (1997) calcu- been suggested to reduce fertility in two ways: first,
lated the direct cost of a case of retained placenta to by a direct effect through an unknown mechanism and
be about €96.34, with an over-all cost of €346.24. secondly, by an indirect effect through endometritis
Many, often interrelated, factors have been implicated (Stevenson & Call, 1988; Laven & Peters, 1996). Han
in the occurrence of retained placenta (Laven & Peters, & Kim (2005) reported the intervals from calving to
1996). Retained placenta is a direct risk factor for first service and conception were higher in the retained
postpartum reproductive and metabolic disorders placenta group than in the control group, which is
(Chassagne et al., 1999), which may affect subsequent consistent with other reports (Ouweltjes et al., 1996).
reproductive capability of dairy cows. In fact, a nega- In some studies, however, the intervals from calving
tive impact of retained placenta on reproductive perfor- to first service and/or conception were not related to
mance of dairy cows has been widely documented the occurrence of retained placenta (Coleman et al.,
(Fourichon et al., 2000; Gröhn & Rajala-Schultz, 1985; Kaneko et al., 1997). RP increases the risk of
2000). However, others have reported that retained fatty liver syndrome and ketosis (Han & Kim, 2005);
placenta does not significantly alter fertility (Kaneko the latter, in turn, delays the postpartum resumption of
et al., 1997). Increased occurrence of retained placenta cyclic ovarian function and prolongs the interval from
in cows with abnormal partus might be due to lack of calving to f irst ovulation (Opsomer et al., 2000).
tone and slow involution or damage to the uterus by Könyves et al. (2009) observed negative energy balan-
mechanical stress resulting from calving diff iculty ce (NEB) developing at the end of gestation markedly
(Markusfeld, 1984; Markusfeld, 1987). Previous re- increased the odds of developing RP. Hur et al. (2011)
ports (Markusfeld, 1984, 1987; Chassagne et al., 1999) concluded that there is a very close relationship bet-
on the relationship between gestation length and the ween RP and postpartum diseases in dairy cattle after
incidence of retained placenta showed that shorter calving and RP increases risks for postpartum
gestation lengths are associated with a higher incidence diseases such as metritis and mastitis, and culling
of retained placenta. Han & Kim (2005) demonstrated hazards up to 60 DIM. Gaafar et al. (2010) observed
that retained placenta was an important predisposing retained placenta resulted in an increase in the period
factor for development of postpartum endometritis and from parturition to first estrus (25.90 vs. 20.50 days)
metabolic disorder in dairy herds, as previously and first service (56.90 vs. 47.20 days), service period
reported by others (Markusfeld, 1986). The condition (57.70 vs. 46.10 days), days open (106.90 vs. 92.70
of the uterus at parturition or soon after may determine days), number of services per conception (3.50 vs.
whether potential pathogens cause infections. At this 2.60) and calving interval (395.20 vs. 372.90 days).
time, retained placenta (a perfect media for bacterial Moreover, they observed reduction in conception rate
growth), dystocia, or involution characteristics of the (66.70 vs. 74.10%) and average daily milk yield (13
cervix and uterus may predispose cows to various in- vs. 14 kg) compared to normally calved cows.
fections (Bruun et al., 2002). Thus, the relationship Metritis (MET) is inflammation of the uterus resul-
between retained placenta and endometritis should be ting in systemic signs of sickness, including fever, red-
considered carefully; a large proportion of primary brown watery foul-smelling uterine discharge, dull-
Effects of main reproductive and health problems on the performance of dairy cows: a review 729

ness, inappetance, elevated heart rate, and low produc- on milk production was reported to be influenced by
tion (Sheldon et al., 2006). Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh & parity and stage of lactation (Overton & Fetrow, 2008;
Ardalan (2011b) reported the mean frequency of MET Wittrock et al., 2009). The reported effect of uterine
ranged from 6.6% in first lactation to 9.6% in third diseases on culling is variable. Some studies found
lactation cows of Iran. Also, Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh & an increased risk of culling (Overton & Fetrow, 2008),
Ardalan (2011c) indicated risk factors for MET inclu- whereas others found no effect (Grohn et al., 2003).
ded RP, dystocia, stillbirth, twin births, primiparity, Disease definition, duration of the follow-up period,
winter season and male calves in Iranian Holsteins. sample size (power), and accounting for related disea-
Metritis in dairy cows is an important disease, because ses are important factors contributing to this dis-
it can increase the calving to conception interval (Erb crepancy. In studies in which uterine diseases in-
et al., 1981; Fourichon et al., 2000) and decrease milk creased culling, this was suggested to be the result of
yield (Coleman et al., 1985). Also, cows with severe either decreased milk production or reduced repro-
metritis ate 2-6 kg dry matter less than healthy cows ductive performance (Grohn & Rajala-Schultz, 2000;
in the 2-3 weeks preceding the clinical signs of metritis Overton & Fetrow, 2008). Dubuc et al. (2011) repor-
(Huzzey et al., 2007), and to negatively affect repro- ted uterine disease decreased pregnancy rate, which
ductive performance (Opsomer et al., 2000; Melendez was a substantial risk factor for culling; however, if
et al., 2004). The largest risk factor for metritis is RP, affected cows became pregnant they were not at
but other conditions that may impair feed intake and greater risk of culling. Also, in a study on Danish
immune function also increase the risk of metritis Holsteins, Elkjær et al. (2013) reported cows with
(LeBlanc, 2008). Some discrepancy exists in the metritis in early lactation presented a signif icant
literature about the effect of metritis on milk yield. delay in first insemination (hazard ratio of 0.80) and
Some studies have reported decreased yield (Deluyker a significantly reduced probability of success at first
et al., 1991; Simerl et al., 1992; Rajala & Grohn, 1998), insemination.
but others show no or equivocal effects of the disease
on yield (Goshen & Shpigel, 2006). This discrepancy
may be partially explained by differences in parity. Conclusions
Østergaard & Gröhn (1999) found that multiparous
cows, but not primiparous cows, with metritis produced There appears to be an agreement in the literature
less milk than healthy cows up to 6 wk after diagnosis. that health and reproductive problems mentioned in
This parity effect has remained unexplained, but may the current paper have adverse effects on the health,
be due to differences in feed intake. Huzzey et al. production and reproduction indices of the dairy cow.
(2007) found that ill cows consumed less feed than Because the current goal of dairy operations is to
healthy cows; yet, this has not been tested in primipa- maximize milk yield per cow through genetic selection
rous and multiparous cows separately. Metritis and and artificial insemination, the practical implication
other infections of the reproductive tract can harm of the association between health problems and milk
reproductive performance (Sheldon et al., 2006). Cows production and identification of potential risk factors
with metritis have increased days between first service for corresponding problems in dairy cattle is substan-
after calving and conception, increasing the efforts and tial. Development of practical management strategies
resources required to induce pregnancy (Erb et al., to cope with the negative effects associated with repro-
1981; Fourichon et al., 2000). Reproductive status is ductive and health problems on dairies is critical. Be-
the most important influence on culling decisions cause health and reproductive problems mentioned in
(Grohn et al., 2003), so it seems likely that uterine in- the current study are the most important conditions
fections increase the risk of culling. Wittrock et al. that limits cow’s performance and considerably erode
(2011) demonstrated that metritis reduces acute feed the profit, maintaining the general health and immune
intake, long-term milk yield, and increases the chance function of the cattle is also important in minimizing
of culling in multiparous cows but not primiparous the risk of health problems. Providing an adequate
cows. Metritis decreased daily milk production from 2 amount of a properly formulated and delivered ration,
to 13 kg during a period that can vary from 2 to 20 wk and providing a clean, comfortable and minimal-stress
after parturition (Rajala & Grohn, 1998; Fourichon et environment is also essential to accomplishing this
al., 1999; Wittrock et al., 2009). The effect of metritis task.
730 N. Ghavi Hossein-Zadeh / Span J Agric Res (2013) 11(3): 718-735

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