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Steps to a Successful Calving Season


Tommy Cox, Education Officer, Teagasc Ballinrobe lists the six steps that he sees as being important to ensuring to a Successful Calving Season for the suckler farmer.

A bit of luck is always important when it comes to calving time, but, being well prepared and organized prior to calving is fundamental to a successful calving season. With the calving season fast approaching or possibly having already kicked off on many farms, this article looks at some of the main areas that will be key to the success of this period.  

Cow condition

Moderate quality silage of (65-67DMD) is generally adequate for suckler cow’s pre calving provided cows are in correct condition. Cows need to be “fit and not fat” before calving. The target BCS for a suckler cow at calving is 2.5. Anything above or below this could create potential issues. Diets of cows close to calving should be kept stable to prevent any upsets, but, cows calving later in spring could possibly have changes made if farmers find cows are in excess or under condition.

Cow Nutrition

Mineral levels in Irish silage are very variable and as a result it is advisable to supplement cows pre-calving. Mineral deficiency can lead to weaker calves with reduced immunity and more susceptible to illness, as well as cows retaining cleanings which can delay the onset of cycling. Cows should be allocated minerals six weeks prior to calving. Pre-calver minerals can be fed by dusting on top of the silage, through water, in boluses, in molassed mineral buckets and in a carrier ration. The main ingredients to look out for whatever option you decide are magnesium (20-25g/day), phosphorous (4-7g/day), iodine (no more than 60mg/day) and selenium (5-6mg/day).

Supplementing cows with 0.5kg -1kg of soya bean meal for a month pre-calving has become more popular with suckler farmers. Soya bean meal is very high in crude protein (48%). Many farmers find extra protein can also improve the volume and quality of the antibody content in the colostrum helping the new born calf get off to a good start.

Scour Vaccine

Vaccines against E.coli, Rotavirus, Coronavirus and Salmonella will give passive immunity to calves through the Colostrum. Vaccines are found to be effective in combination with good nutrition and hygiene to combat infections. These vaccines generally have to be given from three weeks to three months prior to calving. If Cryptosporidium scour has been a problem on farm in the past, it is important to speak to you vet to develop a plan before a potential outbreak occurs.

Facilities and equipment

The phrase ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ is particularly applicable when it comes to having facilities and equipment in tip top condition prior to calving.  Clean well disinfected calving pens with plenty of straw provide the perfect warm environment for the new born calf while also minimizing the risk of  the calf picking up bacterial infections such as scour and joint-ill. Ensure you have basic calving equipment such as a good calving gate, a non-slip calving jack, nylon ropes, lubricant, navel spray, disinfectant, stomach tube, feeding bottle and teat, electrolytes, a thermometer, infra-red lamp and gloves easily accessible when required.

Calving and calf management

Ideally cows should be moved to the calving pen a day or two before they are due to calve to allow them adjust to their new setting. Once calving signs start supervise and ensure adequate time is given. Cows can be left up to two hours after the water bag or the calf’s hooves appear. After this intervention will be required. If you are unsure of been able to get the calf out, veterinary assistance may be required. If the calving jack is required it is important not to use it over aggressively to prevent injury to either the cow or calf. If the calf is under pressure immediately after birth, hanging it up or swinging it is not advisable as it will only put greater pressure on the heart. Instead place the calf on its brisket with its legs tucked under to assist breathing. Navel spray (iodine or chlorohexidine solution) should be applied to the calf’s navel directly after birth to prevent potential infection.

Colostrum

Antibodies do not pass from the cow to the calf during pregnancy, therefore calves are born without any immunity. Colostrum soon after calving is essential. This is the calf’s number one immune barrier from disease. The simple 1, 2, 3 rule should be adhered to when feeding colostrum to the new-born calves. The calf should get its first feed of upto three litres within two hours of birth. 

See more here (including the Beef Edge podcast) on Calving the cow and caring for the newborn calf