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Prepare for Spring Calving

This newborn calving is resting on fresh straw bedding. (NDSU photo) This newborn calving is resting on fresh straw bedding. (NDSU photo)
Planning can minimize calf losses and improve calves’ performance.

Planning and preparing for the calving season can help not only minimize calf losses but also improve calves’ performance, according to North Dakota State University Extension livestock specialists.

The nutrition status of the calving herd is one issue to consider in preparing for the upcoming spring calving season.

“Although this should be an earlier concern, throughout the last trimester of the gestation, it is still possible to split the calving herd according to the body condition of the females,” says Yuri Montanholi, Extension beef cattle specialist.

“Females calving with poor body condition (lower than 4) may experience difficulty birthing calves, and they may produce lower colostrum quality, which may impact rebreeding,” he notes. “In addition, calves may have low vigor that may delay nursing. Thus, a tiered nutritional management system may improve calf viability and reproductive ability.”

Preparation of the calving facilities is another key issue for successful calving.

“For producers who have their females in outdoor calving areas, it is important to ensure that portions of the area have protection from the wind,” advises Karl Hoppe, Extension livestock systems specialist at NDSU’s Carrington Research Extension Center. “Producers should be concerned with potential extreme weather conditions that could cause frostbite in newborn calves.”

Producers who calve in the barn or uncovered pens must inspect and repair gates, pens, water supply, feeders, alleys and head catches. Barn or pen calving demands a substantial amount of straw for bedding. That’s usually 5 to 7 pounds per cow per day for adequate bedding. Continuously adding bedding is important to keep the calves clean and dry, which helps minimize issues with infections and impacts overall health.

Producers also should have an adequate stock of calving supplies, including plastic sleeves, lube, obstetrical chains or straps, calf-feeding bottles, halters and ropes.

“For those who have a calf puller, make sure it is clean and working properly,” Extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist Gerald Stokka recommends.

Producers need to have an adequate supply of colostrum or colostrum replacements as well.

“In situations where the quantity of colostrum is a concern, a colostrum bank or replacers should be used,” Stokka says.

“Due to the practical limitations of harvesting colostrum in beef cows, colostrum replacer can be a good option,” he adds. “Colostrum replacements and supplements are available for purchase. The replacements are much preferred as they contain significantly higher amounts of immunity than do the supplements.”

Calves that nurse a limited amount or experience reduced absorption of passive immunity in colostrum are at a greater risk of illness and/or death.

Producers also should be prepared for problems during calving. Experienced producers may be able to correct abnormal calf presentations and assist the females during calf delivery. However, producers should be aware of their limitations and know when they should call their veterinarian to ensure the delivery and well-being of the cow and calf, Hoppe says.

“An uneventful crop of calves is something cow-calf producers are aiming for after a long winter season,” Montanholi says. “Having a plan and preparing for the calving season will help result in a successful calving season.”

NDSU Agriculture Communication - Feb. 19, 2020

Source:Yuri Montanholi, 701-231-7205,
Source:Karl Hoppe, 701-652-2951,
Source:Gerald Stokka, 701-231-5082,
Editor:Ellen Crawford, 701-231-5391,
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