Preparation will make all the difference on Suckler farms as we approach the spring calving season
January 26, 2022
Calving can be a difficult and stressful time of the year especially if you aren’t prepared for it. John Sands, Senior Beef and Sheep Adviser with CAFRE highlights some top tips to ensure you are ready for the season ahead
- Check service dates and scanning results
First check your service records and draw up a chart of when each animal is expected to calve. Perhaps add a few columns in to record calving details such as proposed and actual calving date, level of calving difficulty, calf size and sex. The chart is a useful management tool, building up a picture of how your bull and the cows perform e.g average gestation length.
If you use artificial insemination the average gestation length for the particular bull used should be available in the semen supply company catalogue providing you with the expected calving date.
Pregnancy scanning two to three months after service is also a good management tool as it will confirm pregnancies, pick up the empty cows, determine twins and identify in good time if there are fertility problems within the herd which may need veterinary intervention or investigation.
- Providing a good dry period
A good two to three month dry period allows cows time to build up body reserves and repair damaged udder tissue in preparation for the next lactation.
- Ensure that cows are ‘fit’ to calve
Cows should be ‘Fit but not fat’ at calving. They should be managed throughout the year to achieve this. Fat cows often have difficult calvings whereas thin cows struggle to maintain weight after calving and won’t produce as much good quality milk to grow the new calf. Feed a maintenance only diet during the dry period to maintain body condition scores around 3 to 3.5 (5-very fat, 1-very thin). Where possible cow condition should be manipulated before going dry or early in the dry period as additional feed in late pregnancy can simply grow a bigger calf and add to calving difficulties.
- Feed a quality ration
50% of foetal growth occurs in the last three months of pregnancy. In addition to rapid foetal growth, the uterus, placenta and surrounding foetal fluids must also increase in size during this time. It is important that pregnant animals receive adequate energy, protein, vitamins and minerals to assist with this growth ensuring live healthy births and a quick return to normal cycling by the cow afterwards.
This can be provided by feeding 30-35 kg good quality silage daily along with a suitable dry cow mineral, low in calcium to avoid the onset of milk fever at calving but high in other minerals and vitamins like selenium and vitamin E which are necessary for the pregnant animal and reduce things like afterbirth retention.
- Prepare the facilities.
Calving pens should be cleaned out and disinfected and any repairs needed to floors and gates carried out in good time. If you haven’t got enough straw bedding you should set to task and purchase it or an alternative like wood chip or rubber mats. Calves born onto wet slippery floors waste a lot of valuable energy trying to stand up and often miss out on getting enough valuable, lifesaving colostrum within the first 4-5 hours (10% of body weight-3-6 litres).
Perhaps this is the year that you should invest in a good calving gate. They are invaluable. The cow or heifer can be provided with assistance calmly and safely, with much less stress and effort required by man and beast.
- Prepare the equipment
Do the calving ropes need replaced, is it time for a new halter? Iodine or blue spray for the navels is a must, a bottle of lubricating gel for use in a tight calving and long arm calving gloves to check what’s going on would be handy to have. Don’t forget the flutter valve and a fresh bottle of calcium.
- Learn from Experience
Take some time to think about what went well, and not so well, during last year’s calving season and decide what you’ll do differently this year. If you are a new comer to the activity it might be best to go online, check out a few videos or purchase a good practical veterinary book. Ask a good neighbour. Most importantly when it comes to health and safety remember never to take unnecessary risks.
Have you got help lined up if it’s needed? Make sure it’s reliable and if needs be, experienced.
- Veterinary Practitioner
Last but not least make sure that you have your veterinary practice number stored on your phone in case of a difficult calving or emergency. Remember that the cost for the veterinary assistance will be much less than the impact of a dead calf.
Contact your local CAFRE Beef & Sheep Development adviser based at a DAERA Direct office if you wish to discuss any issues around calving.