Preparing for Calving Season

— Written By Kelsey Lichtenwalner
en Español

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Preparation for calving season starts long before the first calf hits the ground. In fact, calving season really begins in breeding season and continues through gestation with proper diet and nutrition management of bred heifers and cows. However, there are a few tricks of the trade you can do now to make calving season a little less stressful.

First and foremost, start feeding your bred cows and heifers later in the day, or even at night, 1-3 weeks before calving to prevent night time calving. The reason for this is unknown, but there are several studies that confirm the effects. One Canadian study done with 104 Hereford cows found that 38.4% delivered during the day when fed at 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. while 79.6% delivered during the day when fed at 11:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. Another study done in Iowa on 1331 cows found that 85% calved between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. when fed once daily at dusk.

The next step in preparing for calving season is taking an inventory of your calving necessities and restocking. It’s also preferable to store your calving necessities together in an easy to move kit. Here are 7 things your kit should include:

  1. Obsterical (OB) chains and 2 handles – It would also be wise to make sure that your OB chains are both clean and sterile before using. Using un-sterile equipment can lead to bacterial infections which not only lower conceptions rates when trying to re-breed, but also delay the onset on estrus (heat).
  2. OB sleeve and lubricant – Lubricant is essential when pulling a calf. You can use a mild, non-dish detergent (like Castile), mineral oil, veterinarian lubricants (found at your local feed store or Tractor Supply), or even Vaseline. DO NOT USE DISH DETERGENTS! Dish detergents strip the vaginal wall of it’s natural lubricant and can break down the lining.
  3. 7% Iodine Solution to dip the calf’s naval in
  4. Tags and Tattoo Gun – Depending on your management practices, you can tag and tattoo calves as soon as they hit the ground.
  5. Vaccinations and Medications for newborn calves (if needed) – Quite a few producers do opt to forgo any medication in newborn calves; however, if you would like to administer medicine, nasal or oral injections work best. If scours is a concern (calves are more prone to developing scours in wet conditions), I would recommend giving 3-4 pumps of Scour-Check. Scour-check is labeled for pigs, but it can be used in cattle as well.
  6. Colostrum – Calves are born without a working immune system and rely on the anti-bodies found in colostrum to give their immune system a kick start. Normally, calves get their colostrum from their mother’s milk, but if you end up bottle feeding it is important to get 3-4 quarts of colostrum into the calf’s system within 24 hours. Powdered colostrum can be found in your local feed store or Tractor Supply.
  7. 2-Quart Calf Bottle with a sturdy rubber nipple – Like the OB chains, clean and sanitize the bottle before use.

Assisting During Calving

When pulling calves, the most important consideration is safety. Make sure you have some form of restraint easily available (whether it is a wash rack, head gate, chutes, or small pen). Even the most mild mannered cow will not willingly stand still to allow you to reach inside her and help pull a calf. Protect yourself, and make an already stressful situation for both you and your cow less painful, by using restraints.

Whether you’re using chains and man power, or a calf-jack to pull a stuck calf, remember to pull out and down with steady tension. Pulling at the wrong angle, and/or jerking on the chains can cause lacerations and tearing in the birth canal. In extreme cases, using too much force or pulling straight out can cause excessive damage, like breaking the pelvic bone or even spine. These extreme cases occur most often in first time heifers with calves that are too large, either due to prolonged gestation or being bred to bulls with larger birth weights.

For more information about preparing for calving season, check out the following link:

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