Calving 2008Written by Christy Hemken
Snow remains throughout the state and temperatures have just started to rise. In some parts of Wyoming spring calving has been under way for several weeks, while in others it’s just barely begun.
Max Smylie of Smylie Animal Clinic in Douglas says that things are going well in his area of the state. “We’re not seeing many problems with our new calves, and it’s been pretty dry, but I imagine it’ll start to get muddy with the additional moisture of snowmelt,” he says.
Smylie says the cows in his area are divided into two groups – those north of Douglas and those south of town. “The southern people calve first on their meadows, and their calves need to be a little older and bigger so they’re able to get off the meadows and go to grass, and the people out north calve in open pastures so they want to stay out of the cold weather as much as possible.”
He says producers north of town are just starting with their heifers, after which their cows will follow, while producers south of town are pretty well done with their heifers and are starting with their cows.
“February was a tough month, but as soon as March got here it got warmer,” says Smylie of the weather in his area, noting that producers south of town began calving in February’s cold. “South of town 75 percent of the heifers are done calving and the cows are 30 percent calved, while to the north they’re just getting started with their heifers.”
He expects some problems may arise with calf health as the ground thaws out, but a lot of people have vaccinated for scours in their confined heifers.
In southern Carbon County, producer Jack Cobb of Savery says he’s got about 20 calves on the ground and it’s still pretty snowy. “It’s tried to melt, but we’ve still got 15 to 18 inches of snow on the level and it’s staying cold at night. It’s beginning to thaw in the afternoon, but the snow’s so hard it’s going to take a long time to melt.”
Despite the snow, Cobb says his calf health is good so far. “It’s cold enough that it hasn’t been wet up here at Savery. We moved some snow around and tried to get down to the ground in our calving area, and hopefully it’ll dry out if we can get some warm days.”
However, he said they were expecting another cold front to move through in several days. “It’s nicer than it was a month ago, but it’s not warming very fast. Hopefully it starts coming off a little bit, and slowly. We’re just waiting for green grass.”
In Boulder, vet Susan Blaha says calving there has barely begun. “Most producers in this area don’t start until April,” she says. “Some start in March, and in our own herd we’ve got five on the ground now, but there are really not enough calves yet to know how the season’s going to go.”
She says the number one priority in new calves is the same this year – viral scours. “We give our cattle First Defense, which is a bolus that you give calves within their first 12 hours and it helps with two types of scours, but you can also vaccinate the heifers or calves for prevention.”
Because the calves in close confinement are more likely to get sick and to be stressed, Blaha says everything that comes through the calving barn gets the treatment.
“We also still use Vitamin A in our entire herd of cows and heifers a month prior to calving,” she explains. “A lot of people have quit doing it, but we still do it because hay tends to get Vitamin A deficient if it’s been rained on, and also nobody can have 100 percent top quality hay. Vitamin A is a good supplement to give to ensure that calves are born healthy.”
“The biggest challenge here is the cold weather and bad weather conditions and the calves getting stressed and cold and wet,” she says of the Daniel area, adding that in her operation’s pasture they’ve constructed a little shelter for the calves, around which they feed the cows.
The most important thing with calves is simply watching them closely and having a clean facility for heifers in a barn. “Clean the stall after each heifer and be aware of anything infectious for which you can disinfect,” advises Blaha. “Another thing is that people working with the cows and heifers should wear OB gloves.”
Brucellosis can transmit to people through cuts or wounds on the skin, and besides, says Blaha, using gloves is just a lot safer for the cow. “General cleanliness is a big thing for herd health,” she says.
Vet Warren Crawford of Sundance says calving isn’t too far along in the northeast corner of the state, either. “We have some producers that are calving, but there are a lot of clients that are just starting,” he says, noting that some in his area won’t even begin to calve for at least another month.
“We’re going to have a little tougher early calving season than usual because we’ve a had a tougher winter this year than we’ve had for several years,” says Crawford. “There will be a little more stress on the cattle depending on how quickly it warms up and what the conditions are.”
He says conditions are still pretty wintry around Sundance, as they are around the state. “There will be a little increase in weather stress this spring, so producers need to pay a little more attention to the nutritional stress on their cows, and there will also be a little increased chance of scours and pneumonia in calves.”
“The first of April for a calving date has been very common lately, and late calving has become more of a popular practice in this area,” says Crawford.