What happens prior to and during calving can mean the difference between a good year and a not-so-good year, and it directly affects next year’s bottom line, too. That’s reason enough to make sure you are set up for success. Here are several key factors to consider before the first calf hits the ground.
The right BCS
No matter when or where she is calving, the dam’s condition and plane of nutrition are probably the most important indicators of a good outcome for a calf. David Genho, cattle manager at Deseret Ranch in St. Cloud, Fla., where they start calving in December, calls cow condition his top priority. “If that’s right, everything else will take care of itself,” he says. “We start measuring body condition in October and measure every two weeks. Our target is a bodycondition score (BCS) of 5.” Genho’s major goal is minimizing calving difficulty, and with 42,000 cows on the ranch, that’s a priority.
His experience aligns with the research on BCS and dystocia. “There’s a common belief that if you get cows in good condition, you’re going to increase birthweight, which you do do a little bit, but you won’t increase calving difficulty,” says Cliff Lamb, professor and assistant director of the North Florida Research and Education Center at the University of Florida. “If cows are in a 5 or 6, they are not going to have any more diffi culty calving than thinner cows.”
What the thinner cows will have, however, are less vigorous calves and less effective colostrum. “For the cows in good condition, the immunity in their colostrum is greater. There are more immune factors in it,” Lamb says.
Tom Troxel, professor and associate department head of animal science at the University of Arkansas, likes to aim for a BCS of 6 during the last third of pregnancy, when the calf does the majority of its growing. “It’s been my observation that when cows calve, they lose one BCS,” Troxel says. “I’d rather have cows, when they calve, go from a 6 to a 5 than from a 5 to a 4.”
Research has shown maintaining a good pre-calving BCS matters for rebreeding, too, he adds. “Cows that calve in poor BCS take a lot longer to rebreed. Next year that cow will calve later, and her calf will be younger and lighter at weaning.”
Clean calving pastures
Lamb’s research station runs a 300-head cow-calf operation where clean calving pastures are a priority. “Cows calve in a pasture, and every two weeks we move cows that haven’t calved to new pastures that are naive,” Lamb says. “Making sure pastures are clean is important. Not having cows in the pastures you’re going to calve in for a period of time, leaving them fallow, probably does more good than anything for the health of the calves.” This is an important principle of the Sandhills Calving System (see sidebar).