Posted by Elizabeth Marvel on Oct 12, 2020 7:00:00 AM

Unfortunately, mortality is a reality we must face when raising milk fed calves. Necropsy is a post-mortem evaluation done to assess the cause of death. Many people believe necropsies are only performed to determine cause of death, but there are additional insights we can gain from this procedure. With on farm necropsy, we can gain insight on how well the overall operation is performing.  


There are three key elements to focus on when performing a necropsy on milk fed calves that can be used to evaluate potential management opportunities.  



We analyze the esophagus to ensure proper tubing techniques were used. If we discover: 

  • Perforations 
  • Abrasions 
  • Bruising  

We now have the knowledge that this is a problem area on our operation. We should refocus training of employees who are responsible for tubing calves on proper tubing techniques. Problem areas may be in the maternity area where colostrum is tube fed or in situations where calves are tube fed electrolytes.  



Evaluating the lungs of a calf postmortem aids in the discovery of undiagnosed pneumonia. In many instances respiratory illnesses can be missed if the calf is asymptomatic. If you find, during evaluation, that your calf had an undiagnosed respiratory illness it is important to note that air quality and bedding management is an area of potential improvement. Working with your herd veterinarian or other consultants can aide in evaluating the underlaying cause of these illnesses.  



Infections can decrease calf immunity, which can then decrease your operation’s overall success. There are cases where navel infections are spreading without proper evaluation and treatment on farm. Undiagnosed navel infections rob calves of potential performance ability and can be a driving force of illness.  


If navel infections are identified as an issue during necropsy, then the maternity pen protocols should be reevaluated.  Navel dipping is a procedure that can be repeated 12 hours after the 1st dipping to increase effectiveness.   


The insights gained from conducting on-farm necropsies can be used to identify weak spots within your operation. This skill can be taught to a wide variety of employees. Working with the herd veterinarian can be a good resource for some hands-on experience.   



Let's review the supplies needed to perform an on farm necropsy:


Personal Protection Gear

  • Boots
  • Gloves
  • Coveralls
  • Eye protection


  • Steel for knife sharpening
  • Boning knife
  • Tool to cut ribs (pruning shears or ob-wire) 

For more support, view How to Conduct a Necropsy by Colorado State. 

On farm necropsy should be used as management tool to improve your overall calf program. You are missing the opportunity to perform at your best level when you do not conduct on farm necropsies in the milk fed calf area. 

Need nutritional or formulation support?  Contact the calf technical team.


Topics: Calf Management