The death of a calf never is uneventful. Calves are tough, so most survive in good or bad weather. However, some don't survive.
When it's cold, the weather is blamed for the death of a calf. In reality, each year producers arrive at the calving pen and are discouraged after finding an occasional dead calf.
The North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association (NDBCIA) benchmark for calf death loss is 3.14 percent based on the number of cows calving. Simply put, 3.14 percent of the cows do not get the opportunity to nurse the calves they bore.
The frustration is real, but sometimes there is very little a producer can do.
Years spent calving and lambing would suggest that those babies intent on living will survive birth. Vigor is critical, but there are real differences in baby calves. Some calves have not even hit the ground and they already are shaking off the placenta and all other prepackaged birth membranes and fluids.
Newborn calves with their heads up and eyes open are a joy to see because these calves don't wait for mama to give them a nudge; they just go. In some cases, mom hardly has enough time to clean the little tyke before the calf is up and nursing.
And then there are those who don't seem to ever get with the program. Some expire, having never cleared their nose or broken free of the birth membrane.
Mom delayed a bit and the calf simply never breathes. Some lay around long enough for the coyotes, while others simply slip away under the passage of the herd. The individual vigor and the desire to live were not there.
Those first hours are critical, but occasionally calves die for a variety of reasons, such as clostridia, ulcers, starvation or accidents. The list goes on and on. Even in good weather, a mix of several problems during the first couple of weeks of life often implies stress, overcrowding, problems in cow-calf pair management or lot conditions. These problems with calves can carry over into health issues later on during the summer and fall or even in the feedlot.
Excuses abound and blame is cast for not being there. Perhaps, as beef producers, we really do not need to carry all the blame. The calf died.
Economically, this is not a good thing because every calf carries a significant price tag and tremendous opportunity to make some money.
However, there is reality. Not unlike counting one's chicks before the eggs hatch, not all will survive. The point is the question: At what level of death loss does an individual producer become concerned? Is there a fundamental problem that can be corrected?