Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Reduce the risk of retained placentas

Mary Kinston

No one knows more about the health issues of the dairy herd than the farmers themselves so for this article, I spoke to farmers from Navan down to Clonakilty and from Oranmore across to Enniscorthy to find out what problems are rearing their heads in 2013.

For the farmers I interviewed, the spring has exceeded their expectations so far. It was a tough winter in terms of animal health, with pressure on silage stocks and a need for supplementary meal feeding and other supplements because of the poor quality of silage available.

However, the farmers I spoke to have had a reasonably good spring so far. Nonetheless, they are nervous about potential problems that could occur within the next two months.

Retained placenta

The most common problem on farms this year is retained placentas/foetal membranes. Essentially you have a significant problem if 10pc or more have retained foetal membranes 24 hours after calving.

While approaches to the treatment vary, the general rule is to leave cows with retained placenta for three to five days without treatment, provided that the cow is not sick.

At this stage, the farmer can assist its removal without tearing the placenta.

However, illness can occur either because of bacterial infection or because the cow is absorbing toxic waste as the placenta degenerates naturally.

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Factors that increase the risk of retained placenta include:

nAbortions and premature calvings;


nMilk fever;

nDifficult calvings;

nUnnecessary or premature assistance of calvings;

nDirty calving pens;

nVitamin E and/or selenium deficiency.

• Any condition which leads to debility in the cow such as liver fluke and simply inadequate nutrition, which is an issue on some farms this year.

• Some infectious diseases such as IBR

Dan O'Connor from Meeling, Co Cork is one farmer who has recorded a high level of retained placentas this year.

The Cork man had nine retained placentas from around 60 calvings. While two cases were explained by one abortion and one cow with twins, the others were unexpected.

Even though the cows had been given mineral boluses in January to cover selenium, iodine and copper, Dan decided to investigate the mineral status of his herd.

He took blood samples from the cows that had retained placentas and has since been injecting selenium/vitamin E to cows that are close to calving.

Retained placentas were also a problem for a dairy farmer in Fethard, Co Tipperary, who asked not to be named. Out of 80 calvings, 10 cows and heifers retained the placenta.

It was a surprise, considering the fact that there has been few calving difficulties, and that dry cows have been fed a formulated mineral based on silage analysis.

Dermot Heaney, Navan, Co Meath also recorded 10 retained placentas out of 120 calvings.

Although he wasn't unduly concerned, Mr Heaney had proceeded to handle and remove the retained placenta after five days, following up with an iodine wash a few days later.

Prevention strategies to reduce the incidence of retained placentas are to:

nMinimise assisted calvings;

nFeed cows and heifers to calve in body condition 3.25 and 3.5 respectively;

nCheck the nutrition of stock during the late dry and calving period;

nControl milk fever in cows close to calving;

nConsult your vet whether the selenium and vitamin E nutrition is adequate.

Another farmer from Toornafulla, Co Limerick (who also asked not to be named) has significantly reduced the incidence of retained placentas within his herd in recent years by giving the cows an All-trace bolus in early January.

He also reduced the incidence of womb infections three years ago by vaccinating twice a year for IBR.

Dr Mary Kinston is an independent dairy discussion group facilitator and consultant. Email:

Irish Independent