Cattle grazing at sunset

Livestock specialists and veterinarians say planning and preparation can help calving time go as smoothly as possible. 

As spring calving draws closer, livestock specialists and veterinarians say it is a good time for livestock producers to be thinking about things they can do to prepare for a successful calving season.

Jim Humphrey, a University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist, says meeting nutritional needs is especially important.

“Right now is a really good time, if you haven’t adjusted your feeding schedule already, to get your breeding age females in good body condition,” he says.

Grant Dewell, Extension beef veterinarian at Iowa State University, says this focus on nutrition has benefits for the health of the cow, the development of the calf and the production of colostrum.

“The first thing is the nutrition of that cow is really important in that last stage of gestation,” he says. “That calf is growing exponentially right now. We don’t want that cow to be losing weight.”

Humphrey says a good target is to get cows to a body condition score of 5, and then get a little more on bred heifers.

“Bred heifers, we’d sure like to have a little more flesh on them when they calve, because those girls are still growing,” he says. “They’re the hardest animals to get bred back.”

Dewell says this is important to keep cows doing what they need to do.

“We like cows to calve at least a body condition score of 5, and heifers at 6,” he says. “If they get down to a 4, it’s hard to get them through the winter and they won’t be able to support the calf very well.”

Dewell recommends keeping a close watch on cows.

“(We need to be) looking at our cows on a fairly regular basis and making sure we’re meeting their nutritional needs,” he says. “It’s tough this time of year because they have a longer coat and a full stomach.”

Producers can also alter their feeding schedule to improve their chances of calving in daylight hours, if that’s what they want.

“If they start feeding during the late afternoon or evening hours, you can get a high percentage of calves born during daylight hours,” Humphrey says.

Producers should also think about working with their veterinarian to get any pre-calving vaccinations that are needed. Dewell says it is good to get vaccinations done 30 to 45 days prior to calving.

“Make sure you have that vet office phone number and cell number stored in your phone,” he says.

Now that harvest is over or mostly over, Humphrey says it is a good time for most diversified farmers to start thinking more about their cattle herds and calving preparation.

“If producers have row crops, they’re surely on the downhill side of that,” he says. “They can start looking more at their cattle herd.”

This preparation can involve checking facilities to make sure nothing needs replaced and having supplies together, like electrolytes, lubricants, OB sleeves and bath towels for drying off newborn calves if needed, Humphrey says. Producers can also store milk replacer and colostrum replacer, either a formula or frozen colostrum from earlier.

Humphrey says if it is frozen, it is still good from the year before, although it’s not a good idea to use the microwave to warm it up.

It can be hard to get an exact measurement, but Humphrey says a good goal is to get one quart of colostrum in calves within the first two hours, and two quarts in them within the first six hours.

Dewell says dry lots are “a mess” right now, with muddy ruts and tracks that got frozen, which can make it hard for cows, especially pregnant cows, to get around.

“It’s nice if we can get those lots in shape ahead of calving,” he says. “But for a lot of us further north, we’re kind of stuck with it because it was wet and then it froze.”

He says producers can also be getting calving barns cleaned up as much as possible and making sure facilities are in good working order with bedding close by.

“Make sure your head gate works rather than waiting till 2 o’clock in the morning on a stormy night to remember a cable didn’t get replaced,” Dewell says.

Video cameras can help producers keep an eye on cattle.

“It’s a good time to start thinking about video surveillance,” he says. “Those are getting easier to set up. You can keep an eye on cows without putting on your long johns.”

Producers can also make preparations ahead of time to help with record keeping.

“If we’re going to tag them, write out your tags or put them in your system ahead of time,” Humphrey says.

One other thing for producers to keep in mind is sometimes calving season brings twice what’s expected.

“Be prepared for twins,” Humphrey says. “It’s something that can be a challenge, but it can be rewarding if you’re prepared.”

Producers should also be prepared for the various weather events of calving time, Dewell says. Overall, calving preparation involves getting ready to do the familiar tasks of that time of year.

“It’s the same thing we do every year,” he says, “just being prepared and ready.”

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Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.