Cow calf in pasture fall scene

While heat lamps and warming blankets may not be on the list, cattle producers still have things to do before fall calving begins.

Erika Lundy, Iowa State University Extension beef specialist based in Greenfield, Iowa, says there is a checklist of items to follow as calving nears.

She says the number of herds calving in the fall continues to move higher. An Iowa State study in 2014 indicated 20 to 25% of calving occurs in the fall, and Lundy says the number is likely much higher in 2019.

The first item on the checklist, she says, is to make sure cows are in proper body condition ahead of dropping that calf.

“We’d like to see a body condition score of 5 or 6 with cows, with heifers a little heavier,” she says. “Assess their weight and make sure they are going to be in the right condition at calving because they have additional nutrition requirements.”

She says grass seems to be plentiful at this point in the summer, which should help keep cows in good condition.

“I would assess any feed needs now and inventory what you have on the farm and what you are going to need to buy,” she says.

Beyond proper nutrition, Lundy says various items need to be checked and on hand ahead of calving. Those items range from stored colostrum to calving pasture fencing.

“Sometimes you get surprised, so it’s best to be ready for just about anything,” she says.

Vaccinations also need to be given at the proper time, so any antibodies are passed from the cow to the calf. Lundy says producers should consult with their veterinarians about the timing.

She says while calf scours may not be as big of an issue in the fall, many producers will choose to vaccinate just to be safe.

“You need to have a health protocol in place and make sure any vaccinations are given at the right time,” Lundy says.

She says some producers will start calving in August, while others may wait until October. Lundy says regardless of the month, there will be days when temperatures may rise to uncomfortable levels.

“Heat stress is still a risk, so you want to make sure they have access to some sort of shade or shelter if possible,” she says. “You need to be prepared for those hot days.”

Cows also need to have access to fresh water. Lundy says for every 100 pounds of body weight, a cow is going to need at least two gallons of water.

“You are most likely going to double that when it’s warm,” she says. “You need to make sure you have adequate access for larger groups of females. They are going to need a lot of water.”

Rick Funston, Extension beef specialist with the University of Nebraska in North Platte, says many producers choose to calve in the fall because of better calf marketing opportunities. Most, he says, will have a marketing plan in mind ahead of calving.

While calving time for this year has already been determined, Funston says producers also need to allow calves enough time to put on weight ahead of winter.

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.