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Cattle Mortality: Protecting the Health of Your Herd

There’s an old saying in the livestock industry: “If you have livestock, you’ll have deadstock.” Animal death is an unfortunate but inevitable reality for every cattle operation – whether you’re running a feedlot or dairy farm. Cattle mortality rates have been steadily climbing over the past few decades, making it increasingly important for every cattle owner to monitor their own death losses in order to minimize damage to the operation’s bottom line.


How to calculate cattle mortality rate

Keeping track of your herd’s mortality rate is a simple way to monitor the overall health of your animals. A simple way to calculate your death loss is to divide the number of deaths by the average herd size – not the total number that went through the herd during the year. By comparing your numbers to national and regional averages, you can identify any causes for concern.

When looking at the United States’ average cattle mortality rate numbers, it’s important to differentiate between dairy and beef operations. Because beef cattle are much younger than their dairy counterparts, mortality rates in the dairy industry are generally higher than in both the cow-calf and feedlot settings. According to data compiled by the USDA through the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) studies, dairies averaged a total death percentage of 3.1% for cattle over 500 pounds in 2016, while beef operations reported an average loss of only 1.8%. A similar trend was seen in calf death loss, with dairies reporting a 6.7% loss and beef operations averaging 5.5%.


Common causes of cattle death

NAHMS’ 2015 study also found the top three causes of nonpredator-related deaths were respiratory problems (23.9%), unknown causes (14%) and old age (11.8%). Predator-related deaths disproportionally affected calves – about 11% of total calf deaths were attributed to predators compared to only 2% of total adult deaths. Coyotes accounted for the highest percentage of cattle and calf predator-related deaths (40.5%), followed by unknown predators (15.8%) and dogs (11.3%).

Investigating the causes of cattle deaths on your ranch can help identify trends and prevent future deaths. If the cause of death is unknown, a necropsy may be necessary. It’s also important to remain updated on the leading causes of death loss across the industry to be aware of potential threats to your animals.


Financial impact

Every livestock owner knows the value of their animals’ lives. Your hard-earned living hinges on the health of your herd, so it’s no surprise that cattle mortality can be extremely damaging to your bottom line. According to the NAHMS data, death loss in cattle and calves in 2015 alone cost the cattle industry a devastating $3.87 billion.

This number is high because protecting livestock is difficult. They’re vulnerable to several risks that even the most prepared operation can’t entirely prevent. That’s why we’ve introduced our new American Live Stock Cattle Program, which can protect your livelihood against cattle mortality. Contact one of our representatives to learn more today.

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