Spring Calving Herd: Things to do Now

A list of things to consider over the next few months heading into spring calving.

January

Prepare for calving season. Select areas (past and new) of your operation to calve heifers and cows separately.

Prepare a calving area and assemble equipment:

  • Facilities to warm chilled calves
  • Puller and chains
  • Ear tags and applicator
  • Frozen disease-free colostrum and commercial colostrum supplement
  • Oral calf feeder
  • 7% iodine for navels
  • Scales
  • Electrolytes
  • Injectable antibiotics
  • Syringes and needles
  • Injectable VitaminE/Selenium supplement
  • Other medical cabinet supplies (check expiration dates; store as recommended)
  • Record book. Record calving dates to assess 21-day conception rates through the breeding season. Goals are 63%, 89%, and 95% pregnant by 21, 42, and 63 days, respectively. Lower values may be due to diseases, bull power issues, or nutritional problems, and should be investigated. Keep calf health records. At a minimum, record date, ID, treatment, and problem treated (pneumonia, scours, etc.).

Line up calving season help for monitoring heifers and cows for calving difficulties.

Make sure mature cows have a body condition score (BCS) of 5 or greater and first-calf heifers have a BCS of 6 or greater. Booster vaccine for scours as needed. Monitor cow herd for bovine respiratory disease (BRD). Administer injectable Vitamin E/Selenium supplement to bred heifers and cows in last month of pregnancy if recommended by veterinarian.

February

Sort close-up cows from those farther off from calving, but monitor both groups. Consider new calving ground every two weeks for uncalved dams. Observe calving heifers closely.

Expect calving difficulty and intervene if:

  • No progress after 60 minutes of labor.
  • Calf is backwards (only calf's tail is visible or dewclaws are pointed up).
  • Calf's head and two feet are not visible.

Calving difficulty can result in an increased incidence of BRD in pre-weaned calves due to a reduced ability to absorb colostral antibodies. Dip newborns' navels with disinfectant when possible.

Identify calf with ear tag and/or tattoo while it is young and easy to handle. Administer injectable Vitamin E/Selenium if indicated. Record calf ID, dam ID, birth date, and birth weight if possible. Weigh registered calves during the first 24 hours. Castration and dehorning are less stressful when performed on young animals.

Call A.I. technicians for spring breeding appointments.

Determine how much you can spend for bulls and/or semen.

Monitor calves for scours, pneumonia and navel ill. For neonatal calves, administer oral antibodies for specific disease-causing organisms on farm if recommended by veterinarian.

March

Monitor for difficult calving.

Management of cow herd both before and after calving can affect calf health and the incidence of BRD in your herd. Dip newborns' navels with disinfectant when possible.

Identify calf with ear tag and/or tattoo, brand while calf is young and easy to handle.

Administer injectable Vitamin E/Selenium if indicated. Record calf ID, dam ID, birth date, and birth weight if possible. Weigh registered calves during the first 24 hours. Castration and dehorning are less stressful when performed on young animals.

Watch for calf scours:

  • Give fluids to scouring calves that become dehydrated.
  • Consult your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.
  • Move cows approaching calving to a clean pasture.

Vaccinate calves 6 to 8 weeks or older for clostridial diseases (blackleg) according to label recommendations.

Separate cows that have calves and increase their feed in accordance with their increasing nutrient requirements.

Line up A.I. sires and/or purchase new bulls at least 30 days before the breeding season.

Require performance records and check health history including immunizations. Choose a breed and use Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) plus visual observation to select the bull that best fits your production and marketing program. Quarantine purchased bulls for at least 30 days.

Evaluate yearling replacement heifers for reproductive tract score, weight, and projected mature frame score. Heifers should be 55-65% of expected mature equivalent weight before being bred.

Record the identification number of the last calf born on the appropriate calendar date to serve as record for a PVP program.

For neonatal calves, administer oral antibodies for disease-causing organisms on farm as recommended by veterinarian.

Continue monitoring calves for scours, pneumonia and navel ill.

Consider the Sand Hills calving system, a pasture rotation calving system to reduce calf disease. Information is available here.

Prepare cow and calf facilities for pre-turnout handling. Employ low-stress techniques.

If transportation is required to move cows and calves to pasture, employ techniques to reduce stress and the associated risk for BRD.

Provide supplemental magnesium in preparation for movement to spring pastures, which may place cows at risk for grass tetany.

 

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