Prepare Now for Spring Calving Season

By David Richmond
WVU Extension Agriculture Agent Raleigh and Summers Counties

black calf Getting ready for the calving season begins long before the first calves are born. For producers who will start calving in late February or early March, now is the time to make sure the cows are in good body condition and the calving equipment and supplies are ready for use.

From a feeding standpoint, take a close look at body condition. Mature cows that are calving in late February and early March need a body condition score of five and first-calf heifers need to be at a score of six. Now is the time when cows are in their last trimester of pregnancy and need the better quality of feed. If they are thin, then offer them high quality feeds so condition can be added.

Producers should also get their feed readily accessible in the calving area and make sure the equipment and the calving barn are clean and ready to use. Equipment such as plastic sleeves, obstetrical lube, obstetrical chains, fetal extractor, ear tags and applicator, calf feeding bottles or esophageal feeder, iodine to treat navels, disinfectant, electrolytes, flashlight or spot light and birth-weight scales should be gathered and placed in the calving barn. calf nursing

Producers should also line up a supply of frozen colostrum or at least have a source in mind. Colostrum contains antibodies and other nutrients and must be ingested by baby calves within six hours of birth to acquire satisfactory passive immunity. However, a calf that has had a difficult birth or does not have an opportunity to nurse within four hours should be hand fed colostrums. The calving facilities should be clean and provide sufficient lighting. The facility should also have a place for warming chilled calves.

Sometimes no matter how many preventative measures you take, calf scours can still be a problem. You should prepare for an outbreak every year. Develop a program with your veterinarian that focuses on detection, isolation, diagnosis and treatment. Pre-plan a course of action with your veterinarian and implement it immediately when the first case occurs.

Isolate affected calves immediately and do not expose healthy calves since scour organisms are highly contagious and spread rapidly through contact. Prevent dehydration, since this is usually the most immediate concern with scours. Your veterinarian can outline a fluid therapy to be used.

It is also generally accepted that adequate supervision at calving has a significant impact on reducing calf mortality. On most operations, supervision of the cow-herd will best be accomplished in daylight hours and the poorest observation takes place in the middle of the night. Some studies suggest the easiest and most practical method of reducing nighttime calving is to feed cows at night.

feeding Several research trials have been conducted to measure the impact of nighttime feeding on calving time. The most convincing study to date conducted in the Midwest, found that 85 percent of 1,331 cows on 15 Iowa farms calved from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. when fed once daily at dusk. Whether cows were started on the night feeding the week before calving or started two to three weeks earlier made no apparent difference in calving time. It is important to point out with these studies showing that a large percentage of calves are born during the daylight hours, it is still important to monitor the expectant herd at night.

If more help is needed on this or other agricultural topics contact David Richmond, WVU Extension Agent at (304) 255-9321.