When a cow calves, she will drop her afterbirth within 30 minutes to eight hours. But if after eight to 12 hours the placenta has not been released, she has what is known as a retained placenta.

If one of your cows retains her placenta, do not manually remove the fetal membrane. Removing the placenta by hand, no matter how careful, increases the number of days until the cow cycles back and greatly reduces first conception rates.

Many beef cows that have retained placentas do not run a fever and can be found eating normally. In these cows it is best to just let the membrane drop on its own. Studies show that allowing the placenta to drop on its own, even 10 to 12 days after calving, allows the uterus to return to its normal state and uterine discharge to subside more quickly than when the placenta is removed and portions are left in the uterus.

While most cows eventually drop the membrane, it is a good idea to monitor the cow closely for illness. If the cow is running a fever (above 103 degrees), antibiotics may be necessary to fight off an infection. You may need to consult with your veterinarian to determine the proper antibiotic that will transfer across the uterus. In more severe cases of infection, uterine infusion may be necessary.

A retained placenta typically indicates that other health problems exist. There are several things that may delay the release of the placenta. One of the most common is dystocia because the uterus can easily become infected when there are calving problems and the immune system is weakened.

Another cause is poor nutrition. Deficiencies of vitamins A and E and selenium make the cow highly susceptible to the problems of poor uterine health. Infectious agents, such the BVD virus and leptospirosis as well as other infectious agents that induce early calving, also can cause retained placenta.