Beef Calving Season Preparation

Calving season, it's the most wonderful time in the world. Being ready for it can help make life a lot easier in this hectic time. Depending on when you calve, different tools and decisions may enter into your preparation time. Regardless of time of year, being ready, as the boy scouts declare, is the key to a successful calving season.

Genetic Selection

One of the earliest factors in determining calving season success occurs nine months before the season starts. Getting your genetics right is the baseline for your herd. Select strong maternal cows with adequate milk and maternal traits. Milk can be an expensive attribute, so making sure you have enough without too high a milk epd (expected progeny difference) is advisable. Typically within 5% of breed average can be a good goal for your cow herd. As well, a new born calf has an easier time latching on to smaller teats on medium sized udders.

The other side of the genetic equation is the bull that the female is bred to. Being cognizant of the calving ease of the sire will let you match him with the proper females. Calving ease and birth weight epds will provide you with the information to pick bulls that should provide calves suited to the size of the cows. While actual birth weight on your sire and his offspring are helpful, using epds can provide more accuracy in mating selection. Some cows can handle larger calves at birth, but heifers and smaller framed cows may benefit from bulls with easier calving traits. The first rule of beef calving is that live calves make more money than dead calves.

New born beef calf on straw

Figure 1. Be prepared for calving season.

For more information on bull selection refer to: www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/livestock/beef/news/vbn1016a2.htm

Body Condition Scoring

Body condition scoring is the art of categorizing the condition of your cows. Using a scale of 1 to 5 you can rate the cow from thin to fat. A rating of 3 would be average or good condition. After scoring your cows in the fall, sort into groups to provide better feed to those cows which are a little thinner, and maybe use lower quality feed on cows that are a little on the plump side. It is easier to condition cows prior to calving than to try to adjust condition on a milking cow. Christoph Wand, OMAFRA Sustainability Specialist states: "The nutrition of the cow in the last 1.5 months of gestation is critical. If at no other time in pregnancy an effort is made to elevate the plane of nutrition it must happen here!" Calves from a cow in low nutrition have lower vigour, health and performance.

Younger and thinner cows grouped together and away from bigger and more dominant cows can often do better just from freer access to feed without being bullied.

Beef cows and calf eating hay at feeder

Figure 2. Nutrition of the beef cow is critical to provide healthy calves.

For more information on the benefits of managing nutrition for cows prior to calving refer to: www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/livestock/beef/news/vbn0209a6.htm

Health

Every beef farm in Ontario needs a Veterinary Client Relationship in order to be able to purchase medications from their veterinarian. This means that your veterinarian must visit the farm to discuss management, plus health regime required including appropriate vaccines. This call is not supposed to be a 2 a.m. visit during calving season to assist with a calving emergency. It is to be a management team meeting between professionals, the farmer and the veterinarian. After understanding your livestock management, your veterinarian can provide solid vaccination protocol advice.

Some standard calving season vaccination strategies might include:

  • Precalving scour vaccinations help reduce the incidence of scours after calving. Giving respiratory vaccines at the same time can reduce one handling, provided this works for your vaccine schedule.
  • Treating cows for lice if there is excessive rubbing or hair loss can also assist with body condition and overall wellbeing of the cow.

Cleanliness

Keeping cows clean also helps reduce potential disease load. Make sure that the cows have clean dry straw to rest on. Not only will this reduce manure build up on the cow udder and legs, but it will keep cows more comfortable. Cows require shelter from wind, and excessive mud. Cold is not as much an issue as wet or windy conditions.

Feeding time

Reduce the number of cows calving during the night period by manipulating the feeding time. Admittedly, this is a challenge if the cows are on a constant supply of forage. However, studies consistently show that by feeding cows later in the day, fewer cows will calve at night, with more waiting until early morning.

Facilities

I have already mentioned that cows need wind breaks. However, it is nice to have a pen area to put mother and calf together to bond, especially with a heifer, who may not understand why this little animal is trying to eat from her. Having a head gate or some method of restraining the cow can also be beneficial if you have to help the calf to nurse.

Another facility requirement would be some pen area where calves can get to that the mature animals cannot. Use a board or gating system to restrict access to cows, but which lets calves enter their own area. The calves will quickly learn to sleep in this area to avoid overcrowding or being stepped on by cows.

Equipment

Some basic tools to have ready for calving:

  • veterinarian phone number
  • calf jack puller
  • obstetrics kit including chains and handles
  • lubricant / disinfectant for when you check cows for problems calving
  • halter
  • needles and syringes
  • vitamin a and D and Vitamin E injectables for new born calves
  • Iodine for dipping navels
  • herd identification tags, marker for writing herd numbers and any other identifiers on the tag (cow number, sire)
  • castration rings and castrator or knife
  • stomach tuber
  • artificial colostrum

Neonatal care

Be calm, but careful around pregnant and new born mothers. Do not get trapped in a pen with them.

Check cows if not making progress calving after a period of time.

Know how to use calving chains properly. This video shows clearly the proper method of using them: www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJRDvhb8QUQ

After birth, ensure calf is breathing. Then make sure the calf receives colostrum within 2 hours. Ensure udder is clean, teats are unclogged, and calf can suck on his/her own. If they can't, use a stomach tuber to place colostrum into the calf (at least 2 litres if possible). Milk the cow and place colostrum in stomach tuber. If the cow can't be milked, use artificial colostrum.

Dip the navel in iodine if health care protocol calls for this.

Make sure calf is dry (mother licks it off), and that mother is receptive to the calf.

If health care protocol calls for this, provide new born calf with appropriate vitamins and minerals.

Calving season is a most exciting time as we look forward to the new calf crop being born. Being prepared helps alleviate stress, making for a most wonderful time.


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca