As we move into the new year it will be worthwhile to spend a little time planning and preparing for the upcoming calving season. Management decisions made now can have a big impact on the success of the upcoming calving season and the following breeding season.

There is tremendous fetal growth during the third trimester of pregnancy, particularly during the last 45 days of pregnancy. Nutrient requirements of the cow will increase accordingly. Nutrient requirements will also increase with cold weather, wind, moisture, etc. Make sure that you are providing adequate nutrition to meet the high energy demands of fetal growth and winter weather. This point is particularly important this year following the drought of 2012. Some cows may have come into the winter thinner than usual. Some producers may not have the quantity or quality of winter feed that they usually do. Adequate nutrition is critical not only for the health and rebreeding success of the mother but also for the health and vigor of the calf.

One way to analyze nutritional status of the cow is to monitor body condition score (BCS). It is worthwhile to systematically and consistently evaluate body condition scores every two weeks in order to notice small changes in condition and hopefully prevent any severe loss of condition. Ideally cows should enter the calving season with a BCS of 5. For early calving cows and heifers (two and three year olds) it is usually recommended they enter the calving season with a BCS of 5.5 to 6. It is critical to assess BCS now and adjust nutrition accordingly. Nutritional demands will continue to increase through the third trimester of pregnancy and into early lactation. It will become more difficult and more expensive to improve body condition as they move later and later into pregnancy and as they enter early lactation.

Vaccinations are important to protect herd health and prevent illnesses, particularly reproductive and respiratory diseases. There are many different vaccines available and many different vaccination strategies depending on your situation. Some vaccinations are designed to be administered to the cow prior to calving in order to boost the antibody levels of the colostrum, effectively offering the calf more protection. Proper timing and administration of these vaccines will be very important. Work with your veterinarian to come up with a health management plan that makes sense for your herd.

Spend a little time this winter preparing your calving area and equipment. Make sure your calving facilities are clean, dry, and protected from the weather. Try to prepare some sort of maternity pen with functional head-gate, crowd-gate, etc. to make things easier when you do have to assist with calving. Have plenty of bedding readily available. Have your veterinarian’s phone number readily available. Make a list of the necessary supplies and be sure to have everything on hand. Some important supplies include OB sleeves, chains or straps, calf jack, towels, halters, feeding tube, light source, OB lube, soap, water, bucket, calving book, etc. Finally, plan ahead for problems and unique situations. Consider how you might warm a cold calf, where you might house a calf with scours, where the veterinarian might be able to perform a Caesarean section, etc. A little planning can go a long way!

Source: Chris Clark, ISU Extension and Outreach beef program specialist