Preparing for calving season isn’t hard, but not something producers take lightly. Let’s dive into what materials tend to be gathered and how to make the season go smoothly.
Calving Season is Upon Us!
We are in full prep mode for calving season. It’s just around the corner! Our official start or “due” date is March 3rd, but there could definitely be a few that decide to come early. Which means we want to have everything on hand to be prepared.
Preparing for calving season really isn’t all that hard if you know what you’re doing. But it’s not something that producers take lightly. Their goal is to do the best they can to care for every cow and calf. But it’s important to remember that sometimes things just go wrong. Intervention might be needed, just like in human labor. Sometimes the calf or mom need just a little bit of help afterwards. That’s why we prep and gather things we might need. We’re kind of like cow midwives…
Prepare your cows
Your cows should already be in good condition, not too thin and not overweight. By having your cows in good condition and with all the minerals and nutrients they need, they will be better prepared to calve which in turn should help make the whole process go smoother. The best cow is one who doesn’t need assistance when calving. Other things that go into this prep work is making sure at breeding, you properly paired a bull to your cows that will along for easier births without giving up growth and other desirable qualities.
If your calves have struggled in the past with scours, it may be beneficial to talk with your vet about giving pre-calving scours vaccines to your cows. The shot is beneficial for the calf, not the cow. But by giving the shot to the cow, the immunity can be transferred to the calf through the mother’s colostrum at birth. This then helps protect the calf from having scour problems. Many of these shots have to be given somewhere between 4 to 14 weeks prior to calving and the first year, may require two shots to get maximum benefit.
Lastly, in order to know which one of your cows are actually going to calve, it’s important to know which ones are bred. Check out my post on The Importance of Preg Checking Cows!
We don’t like pulling calves. In fact, I don’t know a single producer who does. However, sometimes the cow just needs a little assistance. Just like in humans, things can go wrong during the birthing process. And our goal as producers is to protect both mama cow and baby calf. The calf may be coming breach (backwards) or maybe the calf is just too big. Our mama can then have a hard time getting it delivered on her own. Heck, if that baby is just too big, she might be plumb tuckered out. That’s where we need to step in.
As a prevention strategy in pre-breeding, we try to pick bulls that will be easier for calving and we try to watch our cows during calving to help only if needed. If you do the right prep work and planning, pulling a calf becomes much more rare.
Assisting a cow during calving looks like working with mama to guide the calf out. Because these are large animals though, sometimes we need OB chains to grab ahold of the legs of the calf. We carefully place them in the correct location to protect the calf and then we help pull during contractions. This helps to guide the calf out and works with the cow, not against her. And the end result is a very happy mama cow when her job is finally done and her new baby is safely here for her to care for.
Tags & Tag Marker
When the calf is born, we like to be able to identify which calf belongs to which cow. Which is why we make ear tags for our calves and give them a little bit of bling shortly after birth. When we maybe see a sick calf later or one that can’t seem to find its mom, we are able to identify and find them as needed to treat or re-pair the two together. It’s just good information to know when you’re trying to do your best for both mom and calf.
Not everyone gives calves vaccines at birth. We choose to give a basic few to help protect the calf from getting sick and get it off to a good start.
Normally, we give Inforce 3, an intranasal, at birth for respiratory diseases along with a clostridial that has protection against overeating disease. Optimally, we also give a clostridial that has protection against tetanus as well.
Bands & Bander
We choose to band our bull calves at birth so that the castration process is less stressful on the calves and cleaner. It simply involves placing a little rubber band around their testicular sack. The calves run around and don’t seem to even know it’s there. We have banded our bull calves at pasture turnout as well, and that went well also. The process at that age just was a little more labor intensive and we needed a few extra people to get it done. Regardless, banding is our preferred method to decrease stress on the calves.
The banders we’ve used and like are just a calf bander that you can pick up at any store or the California bander. The California bander is a quick and simple way to band your bull calves at turnout.
Colostrum & Milk Replacer
Colostrum and milk replacer are kind of like an insurance policy. If mom does her job and the calf figures out the world like it should, they aren’t needed. The calf receives its colostrum from its mom and life is good. However, you remember how I said sometimes things don’t go as planned?
Let’s just take a bad scenario as example. Cows can decide to start calving in the worst times. Sometimes, it’s simply due to a change in pressure from an incoming snowstorm… yes I know… not the best time to be calving. When your calving season is in the early months of the year, it can just be part of the territory. So, if it’s a blizzard, mom can get confused and end up leaving her calf. It’s just a bad scenario. In this case, the producer steps in and helps take care of the calf. Sometimes they can get mom and baby in a barn and paired up together. This is optimal. The goal. But not always possible.
In an emergency, you might have to temporarily separate the calf from the cow simply to protect the calf’s life. But, in order for that calf to get a good start, it still needs colostrum. Having some colostrum products on hand can really help a calf in a bad situation be just as healthy as one born during a prime one.
If you end up needing to give a calf milk replacer or colostrum, you might need a bottle on hand. Some colostrum products don’t require a bottle and come with way of giving the colostrum. With milk replacer, you definitely will need one. They usually are just an extra large baby bottle with a liquid capacity of about 2-4 quarts.
Some other things to just have on hand that hopefully you never have to use are treatments for sick calves. For example. We vaccinate our calves against overeating disease. But every once in a while you might get one that still gets sick. Having the clostridial perfringens type C & D antitoxin on hand along with mineral oil can be a fast way to treat a calf sick with overeating and prevent death.
If your calves get any scours, you will be glad to have early defense against them on hand. Electrolytes are often a first line of defense against them and I suggest having some of these on hand. Some people give scour boluses to calves to treat them as well. It largely depends on what type of scours it is and how soon you catch it.
No matter when you’re calving, you need to make sure you have plenty of bedding and straw on hand. If you calve in the dead of winter, that straw will help keep them warm. If you calve in the spring, the bedding can help keep them out of the mud and muck. Either way, it will help keep your calves warm and healthy, so it’s definitely a necessary thing to have.
Record keeping system
Everyone’s record keeping system for calving season is just a little bit different. Some people simply use a little calf book where they write down the cow who calved and the tag on the calf along with whether it’s a bull calf (male) or heifer calf (female). Some people’s record keeping systems also include taking the calf’s weight at birth. This is really common on operations focusing on genetics such as bull producers.
We keep a sheet of paper with our records on a clip board in our barn. We record the cow’s number, the calf’s tag number, whether the calf is male or female, and whether or not we’ve processed it (given shots, tagged, etc.).
That’s it! Prepping for calving season really isn’t that hard. Some people do more, some do less. On our operation, we try to maintain a fairly middle ground approach. We don’t operate completely hands off and just let the cow do her thing, but we also don’t give the calf everything out there on the market. We do the basics, give a few things to help the calf, and then let our mama cows do their thing. If we need to treat individual calves, we do so.
Does your operation do more or less at calving? What is your favorite part? Or did you know nothing about calving before this post? Let me know in the comments!