Calf prep herd photo

Having well-fed cows and the necessary tools in place can help producers ahead of calving season.

With spring calving creeping closer, producers can be doing some things now to prepare for a successful season, experts say.

One factor is making sure cows are in good condition and having their nutritional needs met. Frank Ireland, research specialist in animal science at the University of Illinois’ Dixon Springs research farm, says sorting cattle based on their nutritional needs can be a good way to prepare. Cattle of different ages and experiences can need different things.

“Their nutritional needs are going to be different,” he says. “Being able to get up there and get their share of the groceries is important, too.”

Ireland says nutritional needs increase in the last trimester.

Good body condition scores mean cattle are ready to give birth and raise a calf.

“I like for those cows to be five and a half to six, maybe even six and a half going into calving season,” Ireland says of their body condition scores. “So they have plenty of energy to go through the calving process. If they’re down at a three or a four, they can run out of energy while calving. That can cause some of our increases in calving difficulty.”

Heather Conrow, University of Missouri Extension livestock field specialist based in Howard County, says there are several benefits to making sure nutritional needs are met.

“It’s a lot easier to put weight on them before they calve,” she says. “Their nutritional requirements almost double when they start lactating. (Good body condition) decreases risk of dystocia and increases quality of colostrum.”

Ireland says it’s important to make sure vaccinations are up to date ahead of calving, and producers should have a good relationship with their vet.

“Ideally, you’ll have a designated calving season and not year-round,” he says. “That helps with having a good vaccine program.”

Producers also need to make sure they plan ahead to get the vaccines well before calving. The rotavirus vaccine, for example, comes through two shots three weeks apart, so producers need to start that process three to six weeks ahead of calving, Ireland says.

Travis Meteer, beef cattle educator with the University of Illinois Extension, says having vaccinations means the cows can pass on some immunity to calves through their colostrum.

“It’s really important that that calf gets colostrum if not immediately, then within the first six hours of birth, or at the most 12 hours of birth,” he says. “…It’s really critical that they receive that colostrum. That’s how those calves get their first dose of immunity and get their needs met as they enter the world.”

Meteer says it’s a good idea to have colostrum replacement options ready ahead of time.

“If we do have a failure, if a calf won’t get up and suck, if a cow isn’t producing enough milk, there are colostrum replacers, or you could get colostrum from another farm, like a dairy farm,” he says.

With heifers, keep a close watch for calving difficulty, of course. Meteer says a lot of producers go with calving ease bulls for heifers, which often also means shorter gestation. Producers should be prepared for heifers to calve two or three weeks early.

Denise Schwab, beef specialist with Iowa State University Extension, says that in addition to making sure cattle are ready for calving, producers should make sure they and their facilities are ready.

“Having the barn ready, bedding and pens ready,” she says. “Putting together a calving kit.”

A calving kit can include OB gloves, lubricant, colostrum replacers and supplements, milk replacer and any chains or handles that go with a calf puller. Beyond that, the list includes general preparedness, Schwab says.

“Know where your flashlight is, and make sure your vet’s on speed dial — maybe a couple of vets on speed dial,” she says.

Schwab says producers might also want to have a “calving suit,” meaning a rain jacket or wet weather gear.

“Sometimes those rain suits or wet suits are easier to wash than those heavy coveralls,” she says.

Conrow, with MU, says it’s usually not necessary to intervene with calving in a well-managed herd. But when it is needed, it’s good to be prepared.

“Proper planning prevents poor performance,” she says. “You definitely increase your chances of success if you prepare for calving.”

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