Preparing for a successful calving season

Jan 30, 2009
by WLJ
Preparing for a successful calving season

Proper planning prior to calving season can mean more live calves. Excessive losses can mean the difference between a year’s profit or loss for a beef producer.

Before the calving season, it is a good time to put together the supplies and equipment that will be needed to assist heifers and cows that need help at calving time. Before the season starts, do a “walk-through” of pens, chutes, and calving stalls.

Make sure that all are clean, dry, strong, safe, and functioning correctly. This is a lot easier to do on a sunny afternoon than a cold dark night when you need them. It is also essential to develop a plan of what to do, when to do it, who to call for help (along with phone numbers), and how to know when you need help. Make sure all family members or helpers are familiar with the plan. It may help to write it out and post copies in convenient places. Talk to your local veterinarian about your protocol and incorporate his/her suggestions.

A “calving kit” can be assembled to have on hand in case of emergencies. Some useful things to have on hand include disposable obstetrical sleeves, non-irritant antiseptic, obstetrical chains (60-inch and/or two 30-inch chains), two obstetrical handles, mechanical calf pullers, injectable antibiotics, and lubricant. Many lubricants have been used and one of the best lubricants is probably the simplest: non detergent soap and warm water.

Don’t forget the simple things like a good flashlight and extra batteries and some old towels or a roll of paper towels. It may be helpful for you to have all these things and other items you may want to include packed into a 5-gallon bucket so you can grab everything at once. There are other sound management practices that are important when preparing for a successful calving season. Some specific things a producer can do to limit calf loss include: Separate first-calf heifers from mature cows. Calving difficulty can run as high as 30 to 40 percent for 2-yearold heifers compared to just 3 percent for mature cows. Place them in a small, accessible pasture near a corral where assistance can be given if needed.

Provide a clean area for calving. The calving area should be a well-sodded pasture or clean, dry maternity pen, not a wet, muddy lot. Be familiar with the signs of calving. Within a few hours of calving, cows generally become nervous and uneasy. As contractions increase, a cow will likely wander away from the rest of the herd. Check cows frequently.

Observing cows and providing assistance when necessary results in more live calves. However, cows should be disturbed as little as possible during labor.

Know when a cow needs assistance. Intervention is justified when two or three hours have passed without progress or if delivery has not occurred within 90 minutes after the water sac appears.

In a normal delivery, the calf’s front legs and head will appear first. Proper planning beforehand can make calving season go a lot smoother and can mean more live calves and, therefore, more profit potential. — Carole H. Brannen, University of Georgia