Sleepless nights, hard work, rewards
Good calving season practices result in healthy cattle
Healthy live calves make for a good and healthy business for livestock producers.
“You’re not going to have your livelihood if you don’t have a healthy calf in the beginning. It helps you all the way through,” said Paige Brummund, who specializes in agriculture and natural resources.
NDSU Extension Service sponsored a calving workshop Feb. 22 at the North Central Research Extension Center, south of Minot. Gerald Stokka, NDSU Extension veterinarian, Rachel Wald, McHenry County Extension agent, and Brummund were presenters.
Brummund, in an interview following the workshop, said their calving workshops are quite popular.
A cow’s nutrition is very important prior to calving.
As the calf is growing in the womb during the last trimester, it increases in size about 70 percent and that decreases the size of the stomach of the cow, Brummund said.
For the cow to eat, she said the cow’s food needs to be more nutrient dense because the cow is not able to physically eat as much. Earlier – in the summer or fall – the cows are eating lower quality feeds – feeds lower in energy and lower in protein.
“We can’t continue feeding them that the last few months of pregnancy because there’s not enough room for them to eat enough to get what they need. What you want to do is maintain or actually increasing in weight hopefully in that last trimester of pregnancy so nutrient dense feeds is really important,” Brummund said.
Cows also need to be in a good body condition score, according to Brummund.
“That’s on a scale of one to nine and on that scale of one to nine we like them to be in that five or six when they are going into calving. That affects the health of the calf, that affects the cow’s ability to rebreed in the spring or the summer so that’s very important to have healthy cows…,” she said.
Colostrom – the first milk that the calf drinks after it’s born – is critical to the newborns.
“That colostrom has the antibodies and the immunoglobulins that are needed to help that calf get going,” she said. “In order to have a good colostrom you should have a vaccination protocol where your cows are vaccinated against the diseases that the calf might be susceptible to. A calf needs to get that colostrom within six hours after it’s born because if they don’t they are unable to absorb those antibodies anymore. There’s changes that happen in the stomach and the proteins are able to get to the calf where they need to.”
Using the colostrom from another cow or stored colostrom sometimes is necessary.
Brummund said about 20 percent of the 50 people attending the workshop said they keep colostrom on hand.
She said many people have gone with the convenience of purchasing colostrom. “But the fact of the matter is the best thing that you can do is get colostrom from a cow in your herd already because they have built up antibodies to diseases and the problems that are around – the pathogens that are there in the herd. There’s just no replacement for that cow’s colostrom as good as if it come from that cow or it come from the cow’s herd,” she said.
She said the next best thing is to have frozen colostrom on hand. She said the frozen colostrom should be thawed out but should not be thawed in a microwave. “You just want to warm it up in a warm water bath,” she said.
Have facilities ready
Farmers and ranchers are advised to have their facilities ready to go before their calving season – make sure supplies are easy to access, everything is clean and in good repair, and adequate bedding is on hand.
“The most important thing is to get those calves dry and keep them clean. Keep them out of the mud and provide a way for them to stay dry and clean is very important,” Brummund said.
Measures should be taken to prevent scours.
“Scours is an illness in calves that can be fatal. They get dehydrated, get infected and they can die very easily. They are very susceptible to it but it’s possible to have zero scours on your place or very close to that. A lot of that has to do with facility cleanliness, vaccinations…,” she said.
Sandhills Calving System
A system called the Sandhills Calving System, developed in the Sandhills in Nebraska, is the idea to keep the calves where they were born with their cows and then move the cows that haven’t had their calves yet to a clean piece of ground. Brummund said all too often it’s easier to move the cow that has calved to a clean piece of ground.
“But the idea is that you keep the ones that have already calved where they’re at because they’ve already been exposed to the pathogens and whatnot, and you take the cows that haven’t calved and move them over to a clean pasture or ground.
The system is very popular in the Nebraska area, according to Brummund. “Here it’s a little bit trickier. If you don’t calve in the spring or in pasture, it doesn’t work. If you are calving now when it’s 7 degrees outside, you have to have those calves inside. You’ve got to get them warmed up right away. It really only works if you are calving in the spring or summer seasons,” she said.
If calves are born when the weather is cold, it’s very important to get them warmed up right away, Brummund continued.
“If you are going to calve in January, February or March when it’s cold out, you got to have a place to get that calf warmed up,” she said. But she said the problem with that is the more calves and cattle put in a small area, the more the diseases are going to spread.
Calving requires good managers
“You have to be a better manager if you’re going to calve. It takes a lot more labor, it takes a lot more work to calve in the winter in North Dakota,” Brummund said. “It’s a life or death situation. If you’re not out there to get that calf warmed up, you’re going to lose your calf, at minimum you’re going to lose some ears or that sort of thing.
“If you get a calf that is cold, warming it up is very important,” she said. She said many people have hotboxes which are boxes with a little heater in them. “You have to make sure you have a thermometer in those so you don’t get them too hot,” she said.
She said the fastest way to warm up calves is to put them in a warm water submersion – actually submerge them in 100 degree water to warm them up but it takes a lot of supervision. “That’s in a real emergency situation – you went out, you weren’t expecting this cow to calf and they calved in a blizzard in below zero-type temperatures,” she said.
“So it’s very, very important if you’re calving in the winter in North Dakota that you are ready for it, you are prepared, you have the facilities, you have the labor for it. If you don’t, then we would suggest you calve at a time that’s more friendly to a newborn calf which would be in our spring – in April- May timeframe,” she said.
In this area she said the calving season depends on the goals of the operation. “If you have the barns, you have the facility, maybe you’re calving earlier. A lot of times the purebred breeders are going to calve earlier so their calves are larger and more presentable when it comes to sale time,” she said.
“Another reason that we calve early in North Dakota is because a lot of people are diversified operations,” Brummund said. She said they ranch but they also farm so they need to have the cattle done calving so they can get into the field.
The key thing
“The key thing is you want to work with your veterinarian,” Brummund said. “Make sure you have a good working relationship so they can help you when you need it. If you are struggling with a cow that’s having a difficult birth, get it to your veterinarian sooner rather than later for the best survivability of the calf. We really stress that as well.”