Beef calves naturally have good suckling instincts when they are born. Nonetheless, when possible, beef cattle operators need to observe cows and their calves carefully in the early postpartum period, suggests Jan Shearer, DVM, MS, University of Florida. Shearer suggests watching for the following nursing and mothering behaviors of beef calves and cows.

“None of these observations alone provides assurance that the calf has nursed, but absence of these suggests a need for closer observation and possible intervention,” Shearer says.

  • Note whether the calf is vigorous at birth. Is it alert and responsive?
  • Does the calf have contracted tendons or other conditions that might temporarily interfere with its ability to nurse? 
  • Does the cow seem to mother the calf, or does she shun or distance herself from it?
  • Does the calf attempt to nurse frequently, or does it appear to be satiated?
  • Does the calf attempt to nurse the elbow and dewlap, or does it appear that it has found the udder?
  • Does the cow seem to cooperate with the calf so that it has an optimal opportunity to nurse?
  • Does the udder appear full with milk, or are one or more quarters slack as though they may have been nursed?