With spring calving season just around the corner, now is the time to evaluate your beef cows and heifers to help make the calving season go smoother and set your herd up for success in the next breeding season.
Dr. Jody Wade, Professional Services Veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., says cow-calf producers need to focus on three key areas to help the calving season go smoothly:
- Body condition of heifers and cows
- Vaccinations to boost colostral antibodies
- First aid kit fully stocked and a clean calving area
It is important for cows to maintain a body condition score (BCS) between 4.5 and 5.5 during the final trimester. A higher body condition score allows for improved calving ease, along with higher quality colostrum. First-calf heifers should have a BCS of 5.5 to 6 before calving. However, producers should avoid cows or heifers with too much body condition (BCS 8 or 9) since that can lead to calving difficulty.
“Heifers are still trying to grow, while also providing milk and preparing to rebreed. After calving, they won’t add body condition so it is key that they are in really good condition before calving,” says Dr. Wade.
Several state cooperative extension services and cattle breed associations have tools available to help producers evaluate body condition.
Entering the third trimester, producers should consider vaccinating with a killed-virus vaccine, like Triangle® 5 or Triangle® 10, to boost immunity. Dr. Wade recommends that producers focus on the viral diseases like BVD Types 1 and 2, BRSV, PI3, and IBR. He adds that producers could also consider a clostridial vaccination at this time, if needed.
Dr. Wade explains that the immune response developed from the vaccination forms antibodies that pass from cow to calf through the colostrum. He encourages producers to work with their local veterinarian to develop a health program that fits the producer’s management style and protects the cow herd from regional disease challenges.
Dr. Wade says that vaccination cannot overcome poor nutrition. “Cows and heifers have to be in the right condition to respond to vaccinations,” he says. “Vaccines can’t make up for lack of feed or water.”
Don’t wait until you have problems to develop a plan. Dr. Wade recommends having the following items ready before calving season.
- Clean calving area
- Functioning calf jack
- Obstetric chains
- Plastic or latex gloves
- Good functioning lights for nighttime calving problems
- Easy access to local veterinarian’s phone number (including a back-up option)
Dr. Wade says it is important for producers to have patience when heifers or cows begin calving. “You don’t want to intervene too quickly because cervical dilation may not be complete and you can accidentally tear the cervix or uterus,” he explains. “There is also the chance of breaking the calf’s ribs or a leg if we are too aggressive too early.”
However, Dr. Wade cautions that producers need to be aware of how long a heifer or cow has been in the process. “If there is a problem, we don’t want to delay too long or we risk losing the calf,” he explains. “After the placental membranes appear, you should expect to see the front hooves followed by the nose shortly. If everything goes well, a cow should be done calving in 10 to 30 minutes.”
Dr. Wade says heifers are a different story. “Heifers may take a little longer, but they should still calve within one to three hours after the placental membranes appear.”
Dr. Wade says if cows or heifers are disrupted during calving, then you will need to give them a chance to settle back in, so the process may take longer.
“If you see the hooves facing upward, then you have a breech birth and you should contact your veterinarian immediately,” recommends Dr. Wade.
After the calf arrives safely, make sure the calf consumes at least one quart of colostrum within six hours of birth. This is also a good time to make sure the calf is getting up and around without any motor function problems. To get off to a really good start health-wise the calf should consume three quarts of colostrum within the first 24 hours of life.
“A little planning now goes a long way toward a trouble-free calving season and prevents problems before they start,” concludes Dr. Wade.