Calving is one of the most important times on the production calendar. Management decisions made prior to this period can influence success at calving and ultimately profitability of an operation. Calving difficulty (dystocia) is a very important economic problem in the U.S. beef cattle industry.
The last trimester of pregnancy is when the majority of fetal growth occurs. During this period the nutrient requirements of the cow increase accordingly. In particular, the last 45 days prior to calving are a critical time. The best method to assess the nutritional status of the cow is to monitor body condition. Ideally, most cows should enter the calving season with a body condition score (BCS) of 5. However, early-calving cows (January and February) and young cows (2 and 3 year olds) should have a BCS closer to 5.5 or 6. Research has clearly demonstrated that body condition can have a dramatic impact on subsequent reproductive performance. If the cows are thinner than desired, it is advisable to alter the plane of nutrition to add body condition prior to calving. After calving, the nutrient demands associated with lactation make it difficult and expensive to add body condition.
A common misconception regarding pre-calving nutrition is that feeding cows too well results in increased calving difficulty. This is absolutely incorrect! Actually, underfeeding cows prior to calving could increase calf scours and mortality and reduce calf survival. Along the same vein, overfeeding can be a problem as well. Cows that are over-conditioned actually deposit fat in the birth canal which can lead to calving problems.
Some research suggests that calf vigor can be influenced by pre-calving plane of nutrition. Calves from cows on a maintenance or high plane of nutrition got up and nursed more quickly than calves from cows on a low plane of nutrition. Time to nurse is critical in getting an adequate amount of colostrum in calves prior to gut closure.
The focus of pre-calving vaccination programs is to provide immunity to the calf via colostrum. There are several diseases that can be vaccinated for at this time; however, to vaccinate for every possible disease is neither practical nor economically prudent. Consult with your veterinarian to develop the vaccination strategy that is appropriate to your operation.
Timing of Feeding
The Konefal Calving Method was developed by a beef producer in Manitoba, Canada. This method involves feeding cows twice daily at approximately 11:30 am and 9:30 pm. Using this regime, Gus Konefal was able to get 80% of his cows to calve between 7 am and 7 pm. Research at Iowa State University produced similar results. Results of USDA research were not as dramatic, but still showed a 10 to 20% reduction in the number of cows calving between 10 pm and 6 am.