Preparing for the Calving Season
1. Pay attention to nutrition needs of bred heifers or cows prior to calving.
Adequate body condition at the time of calving for young females and mature cows is important as it impacts stamina during delivery of the calf, colostrum quality, calf vigor, and also impacts subsequent rebreeding.
Adequate nutrition during the last trimester of pregnancy and especially the last 50-60 days prior to calving is important. Two-year-old heifers and three-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 cold weather and available forage that is low in energy and protein. Body condition can deteriorate rapidly under these conditions. See the article Cow Nutrition Considerations at Calving and Early Lactation for more information on this.
2. Review with your veterinarian your herd health plan.
The whole production system should be discussed identifying critical control points where management could reduce risk and cost effectively improves herd health. Specifically address management options to mitigate health problems that have historically been an issue. See the article Calving Management and Reducing Calf Losses in Beef Herds for additional information.
3. Examine calving facilities making sure they are in good working order.
Frequently it has been 9-10 months since calving facilities have been used. Inspect gates, pens, alleys and head catches, fixing or replacing broken items. Give pens and facilities a good cleaning and disinfecting before calving starts if it wasn’t done at the end of the season last year. Good lighting is an important part of a calving facility. Check lights and have replacement bulbs on hand.
4. Check your calving supplies and review the stages of parturition (calving) to understand when assistance is needed.
Make sure you have on hand plastic sleeves, obstetrical lube, obstetrical chains or straps, esophageal feeders and calf feeding bottles. Test flashlights or spotlights to make sure they are working as well. Inventory halters, ropes, and other tools that may be needed. Make sure the fetal extractor (calf puller) is clean and working properly. This video “What’s in the Box, Calving Tools and Tricks of the Trade” is a great resource to assess what you have and may need.
Review the stages of calving and understand when further examining and assisting a heifer or cow is needed. Nebraska Extension Ranch Handbook You Tube Channel has a short video on needed calving supplies as well as when and how to assist the cow at calving that are excellent resources to review. Assisting the Beef Cow at Calving Time is a NebGuide that provides information on this as well.
5. Have colostrum or colostrum replacement products on hand.
Quality colostrum consumption by the calf shortly after birth is foundational for the health of the calf throughout its life. The calf’s ability for absorption of immunoglobulin across the intestine decreases rapidly 6-12 hours after birth. Therefore, it is critical that the calf receives colostrum soon 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. Calves experiencing a difficult delivery are less likely to nurse in a timely way and will benefit from receiving colostrum shortly after birth via a bottle or esophageal feeder.
If quality or quantity of the colostrum is a concern, other sources of colostrum or colostrum replacement products should be used. Use caution when bringing outside sources of colostrum into the herd. Disease transfer can occur. The best source of colostrum is from within your own herd. Colostrum replacement products can be a good option to utilize when calves are not vigorous at birth, after a prolonged calving event, cold stress or where there is poor maternal bonding. Visit with your veterinarian about which colostrum replacement products are best for your operation. For more information on colostrum, see the article Colostrum 101 as well as the Tailgate Talk video, Colostrum 101.
6. 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 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. 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.
7. Plan to provide wind protection along with a clean, dry environment.
Wet, muddy conditions are stressful both to cows and calves. This kind of environment also provides a situation where disease proliferation is more likely to occur. When possible, providing a clean, dry place for calves and cows to lay down will reduce stress and promote calf health.
A fresh crop of calves is something cow-calf producers look forward to each year. Having a plan and preparing ahead of time for the calving season can help to minimize calf loss and reduce stress on those caring for the cowherd. For more information on management practices to improve calving success, visit the beef.unl.edu website.
Interviews with the authors of BeefWatch newsletter articles become available throughout the month of publication and are accessible at https://go.unl.edu/podcast.