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Preparing for the Calving Season

28 January 2019
Type Media Article

By Sinéad Devaney, Teagasc Adviser, Galway/Clare Regional Unit

Pre - Calving Checklist – Before it gets busy with new-borns on the farm, now is a good time to start preparations for calving. NOW when you can think more clearly and plan for a smoother calving season.  Check the basic calving equipment on the farm to ensure you have what you need for when you need it. This includes a good calving gate securely fitted, a calving jack in good working order, two sets of clean soft nylon ropes, buckets, disinfectant, lubricant, two stomach tubes (one for sick calves and one for colostrum management), feeding bottle, iodine, electrolytes, a thermometer, a warming box, calf jacket or infra-red lamp, a box of arm length gloves, standard rubber gloves and access to warm water etc.. Ensure to order enough calf tags. Check in advance if calving cameras and calving sensors are working. A white board and markers on the wall alongside all this equipment is very handy for scribbling notes, especially if calves need extra feeds or special treatment and if more than one person is sharing the work. Calving information can be noted here for proper recording later. Preparation is the key. Have calving pens clean and disinfected prior to start of calving. One roomy calving pen (min 16.8m2) with good lighting per 10 cows is ideal.  Ensure to use plenty of straw in calving pens to keep young or new born calves warm. An adequately bedded pen is one in which you can kneel down without your knees getting wet. The pen should also be draught free. Get down to calf-level to check it out.

Cow care prior to calving- Dry cow minerals should be fed for 6 weeks pre-calving. Have cows been vaccinated against scour? Discuss scour vaccines with your vet as part of a scour prevention plan. This can be done a number of weeks pre-calving and will boost the anti-bodies against scour which will be passed to the calf in the colostrum (biestings) afterwards. Poor housing and lack of attention to hygiene are major contributors to outbreaks of scour on the farm. Are cows clean in the run up to calving? – clip tail and flank to improve cleanliness for suckling.

If Cryptosporidium scour has been a problem on farm, consult your vet to develop a strategy to tackle the problem. However thoroughly washing, disinfecting and drying out of each calving box after each calving will help prevent the build-up of harmful microorganisms. Spreading lime by hand after each individual use of the calving pens will also help neutralise any potential infection by raising the pH.

Colostrum (biestings) Management - Antibodies cannot pass from the cow to the calf during pregnancy, therefore calves are born without any immunity. Suckler calves should be fed 2-3 litres of colostrum within two hours of birth to maximise absorption of antibodies and increase immunity of the calf to help fight potential infectious bacteria and viruses. Ideally colostrum from the calves mother should be fed, but where this is not possible, emergency supplies should be available. Surplus Colostrum from older cows/ high yielding cows could be stored and used in an emergency situation. Surplus colostrum can be stored for up to one year in a freezer in milk containers or freezer bags at -18°C to -25°C without losing quality. When defrosting, use warm water less than 50°C to thaw slowly as faster thawing at higher temperature or using the microwave will destroy the antibodies in the colostrum.

Feeding the calved cow - Cows in good condition at calving BCS 2.5-3.0 and going to grass within six weeks post calving will suffice on moderate quality silage (66 % DMD) with no concentrates. Cows with calves at foot and in poor condition must be supplemented with 2-3 kgs concentrates until turnout. First calvers require concentrates in all cases, depending on silage quality; this will vary from between 1 -3 kgs/ day up until turnout. A high energy (UFL= 0.94+) ration with 16% crude protein should be fed.

Farm Safety - Remain vigilant at all times when in the presence of calved cows as they may become aggressive in protecting their young after calving. Ensure to stay safe and make others working and living on the farm aware of the dangers also. Being organised for calving by being prepared can prevent accidents. Ensure cows can be safely secured for handling. Cows showing prolonged calving aggression (longer than a few days) should be culled (preferably slaughtered) once their calf has been weaned.