Calving Season Prep

Calving season marks the beginning of a new season with a new crop of calves on your ranch. Whether you’re more experienced or a novice, now’s the time to make sure you’re prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. Here are tips to guide your planning.

Assess the body condition of your cows and heifers.
Adequate body condition is necessary to provide stamina during delivery of the calf, colostrum quality, calf vigor and has an impact on the cow’s ability to rebreed. A BCS score of 5 to 6 is recommended prior to calving.

“Adequate nutrition during the last trimester of pregnancy, and especially the last 50 to 60 days prior to calving is important,” says Aaron Berger, University of Nebraska, Beef Systems Extension Educator. “Two-year-old heifers and 3-year-old cows are vulnerable during this time period. These young females are still growing themselves while growing a calf inside them. As this calf grows and takes up room, rumen capacity is impacted and the amount of feed the young female can eat is reduced. The impact of this condition can be compounded when this time period prior to calving coincides with bitter cold weather and available forage that is low in energy and protein.” 

Review your herd health plan.
You should discuss your production system with a veterinarian to identify critical control points where you can reduce risk and effectively improve herd health. 

“Utilize treatment records from last year to identify particular areas where problems occurred,” Berger says. “Use this information to develop a plan to specifically address management options to mitigate health problems that have historically been an issue.”

Conduct an inspection of your calving facilities to make sure all gates, pens, alleys and head catches are in working order. Ensure good lighting is available. Thoroughly clean calving areas, pens and barns. 

“Starting the calving season with clean areas can help slow the development of health problems related to dirty areas that can encourage disease proliferation,” Berger says.

Check your calving supplies. The list should include plastic sleeves, obstetrical lube, obstetrical chains or straps, esophageal feeders and calf feeding bottles as well as inventory halters, ropes and other tools. Additionally, have products on hand for treating common problems, such as oxytocin, antimicrobials, calcium solutions
and electrolytes. 

Have colostrum or colostrum replacement products on hand. “Absorption of quality colostrum is critical for passive immunity,” Berger says. “The calf’s ability for absorption of immunoglobulin across the intestine decreases rapidly six to 12 hours after birth. It is a good practice to immediately milk out a heifer or cow when she is assisted at calving and provide this colostrum to the calf. When possible, have the calves nurse to get this colostrum.” 

Other sources of colostrum can be used. But, Berger says, “Use caution when bringing outside sources of colostrum into a herd as disease transfer can occur. The best source of colostrum is from within your herd.”

Have a plan and equipment for warming calves if calving during cold weather. Calves born during cold, wet conditions can quickly succumb to hypothermia. Have facilities, tools and supplies on hand to deal with this type of event. 

“For mild hypothermia, (body temperature between 94°F and 100°F) giving a calf warm, body-temperature colostrum or colostrum replacement products along with drying the calf off with towels and warm air can quickly bring a calf’s temperature back to normal,” Berger says. “For extreme hypothermia a combination of warm colostrum with a warm bath can be used. Calves should be dry, alert and have a normal body temperature before being returned to their mother.” 

Provide a calving environment to promote success. That includes wind protection and a clean, dry area as muddy conditions are stressful to the animals and encourages the proliferation of disease.

Check on cattle regularly. Newborn calves do not have significant energy reserves so if it becomes ill, its condition can deteriorate rapidly. Check on calves daily to identify illness early and treat sick calves quickly. 

When calves arrive, tag the calf and match and record the calf’s identification number to the cow’s number. Immediately applying an ear tag makes it easy to identify newborn calves if they become sick. Identification will help ensure the right calf receives treatment. At the time of tagging, dip the navel with iodine to help it dry out and prevent bacteria from spreading to the calf through the umbilical cord.


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