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The objective of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of a blanket systemic preventive treatment (PT) of cows having retained fetal membranes (RFM) with 1 mg/kg of ceftiofur administered the first day after calving regardless of their body temperature. This strategy was compared with a selective treatment (ST) strategy in which only cows having RFM and a rectal temperature > or = 39.5 degrees C within 10 d postpartum received ceftiofur. Cows that retained their fetal membranes for at least 24 h after calving were allocated to 2 groups. Rectal temperature was measured daily for 10 d postpartum. Sixty PT cows having RFM received a daily ceftiofur (1 mg/kg of body weight) treatment, administered subcutaneously during the first 3 d after diagnosis of RFM. If rectal temperature was > or = 39.5 degrees C after 3 daily treatments, cows received ceftiofur for 2 more days. Therapy in 53 ST cows was based on selective administration of ceftiofur to cows having fever during the first 10 d postpartum. Treatment was conducted for 3 to 5 consecutive days as described for PT cows, beginning on the first day of fever. In both groups, manual removal of the placenta was not attempted and antibiotic drugs were not administered into the uterus. For every cow having RFM enrolled in PT or ST, 1 cow without RFM that had calved on the same day was enrolled in a healthy control group (n = 113). All cows received two 25-mg doses of PGF(2alpha): 1 dose between 18 and 24 d and 1 dose between 32 and 38 d postpartum. The PT did not reduce the proportion of cows experiencing fever during 10 d postpartum compared with ST cows (71.7 vs. 69.8%). Results were compared using logistic regression models and survival analyses. The artificial insemination submission rate between 42 and 62 d postpartum was greater in PT (41.2 vs. 20.8 vs. 24.5%), but total conception rate was less in ST and control cows, respectively (25.0 vs. 38.9 vs. 36.2%). In this trial, a preventive systemic antibiotic treatment of all cows having RFM was not superior to a selective antibiotic treatment of cows only in case of fever.