Look back at last calving season and ahead to next calving season
Only eight or nine months ago, the spring calving cows were calving, the temperature was cold, and the calving pastures were muddy.
Experience would say that you do not want to ask cow/ calf operators how “calving” is then, because the response would be less than objective, reflecting bonechilling cold and not enough sleep. However, if you want to reduce some of last spring’s headaches, perhaps this fall is the best time to make a few notes on what to change for next spring.
The first step is to list the dead calves. Hopefully, your cattle are in a record system that will provide that infor mation.
Your calving notebook should have the dead calves checked off and a brief notation on what happened to each. Until all the calves are listed, the shock of lost opportunities has not had its full impact.
Can you identify a pattern of problems?
Was most of the death loss right at delivery and involved 2-year-old heifers? This could indicate that sire selection in the future needs to be done more carefully, with attention being paid to low birth weight EPD sires for heifers. Perhaps the heifers were underdeveloped. This could contribute to more calving difficulty than necessary.
Do you provide assistance to heifers after they have been in stage two of labor for one hour? Longer deliveries result in stress on both calf and cow.
Was the death loss more prevalent after the calves had reached 10 days to two weeks of age? This, of course, often means that calf diarrhea (or scours) is a major concern. Calf scours will be more likely to occur to calves from first calf heifers. Calves that receive inadequate amounts of colostrum within the first six hours of life are five to six times more likely to die from calf scours. Calves that are born to thin heifers are weakened at birth and receive less colostrum which compounds their likelihood of scours. Often, these same calves were born via a difficult delivery and adds to the chances of getting sick and dying. All of this means that we need to reassess the bred heifer growing program to assure that the heifers were in a body condition score of 6 (moderate flesh) at calving time.
Do you use the same trap or pasture each year for calving? There may be a buildup of bacteria or viruses that contribute to calf diarrhea in that pasture. This particular calving pasture may need a rest for the upcoming calving season. Plus, it is always a good idea to get new calves and their mothers out of the calving pasture as soon as they can be moved comfortably to a new pasture to get them away from other potential calf scour organisms.
Visit with your veterinarian about last spring’s calf health problems. Pre-calving scours vaccines (to the cows) may be recommended by your veterinarian for this winter and spring. This decision must be made soon so that the vaccine is given soon enough to provide the best possible passive immunity to the newborn calf.
This should be considered an important short-term plan to reduce the incidence of calf diarrhea. We must, however, enlist the other management suggestions as more long-term solutions to the problem. — Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Extension Cattle Reproduction Specialist