Conceptual modeling of postmortem evaluation findings to describe dairy cow deaths

C. S. McConnel, F. B. Garry, Ashley E Hill, J. E. Lombard, D. H. Gould

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Dairy cow mortality levels in the United States are excessive and increasing over time. To better define cause and effect and combat rising mortality, clearer definitions of the reasons that cows die need to be acquired through thorough necropsy-based postmortem evaluations. The current study focused on organizing information generated from postmortem evaluations into a monitoring system that is based on the fundamentals of conceptual modeling and that will potentially be translatable into on-farm relational databases. This observational study was conducted on 3 high-producing, commercial dairies in northern Colorado. Throughout the study period a thorough postmortem evaluation was performed by veterinarians on cows that died on each dairy. Postmortem data included necropsy findings, life-history features (e.g., birth date, lactation number, lactational and reproductive status), clinical history and treatments, and pertinent aspects of operational management that were subject to change and considered integral to the poor outcome. During this study, 174 postmortem evaluations were performed. Postmortem evaluation results were conceptually modeled to view each death within the context of the web of factors influencing the dairy and the cow. Categories were formulated describing mortality in terms of functional characteristics potentially amenable to easy performance evaluation, management oversight, and research. In total, 21 death categories with 7 category themes were created. Themes included specific disease processes with variable etiologies, failure of disease recognition or treatment, traumatic events, multifactorial failures linked to transition or negative energy balance issues, problems with feed management, miscellaneous events not amenable to prevention or treatment, and undetermined causes. Although postmortem evaluations provide the relevant information necessary for framing a cow's death, a restructuring of on-farm databases is needed to integrate this level of detail into useful monitoring systems. Individual operations can focus on combating mortality through the use of employee training related to postmortem evaluations, detailed forms for capturing necropsy particulars and other relevant information related to deaths, and standardized nomenclature and categorization schemes. As much as anything, the simple act of recognizing mortality as a problem might be the most fundamental step toward controlling its progression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)373-386
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Cow
  • Dairy
  • Mortality
  • Necropsy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Food Science
  • Genetics


Dive into the research topics of 'Conceptual modeling of postmortem evaluation findings to describe dairy cow deaths'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this