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Management

Veterinarians encourage preparation for calving season to minimize challenges

Written by Natasha Wheeler

“Every calving season is unique,” said Tad Tipton, DVM at Blacktooth Large Animal Services in Sheridan.

He noted that what producers do this year may change what happens next year, but by then, there may be a whole new set of challenges.

Materials on hand

Mark Hilton, DVM, advised having everything on hand and ready for use before calving season begins. Because calving can be unpredictable, Hilton noted that it is important to be prepared ahead of time with all supplies to avoid last minute scrambling.

Hilton suggested keeping obstetric (OB) chains and medications easily accessible. Lubricant and disinfectant should also be kept on hand, according to Robert Callan, associate professor at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science.

“Disinfectant for cleaning up a cow before the producer checks her or assists her with a birth is a must, as well as for dipping the newborn’s navel,” Callan said.

He also noted that supplies for newborns should be on-hand.

“A producer should have elastrator rings if they band calves at birth, injectables, like vitamins A, D and E, selenium and vaccines, and ear tags for calf identification,” said Callan.

Fresh supplies

Callan warned against using vaccines and vitamins from previous seasons.

“Product contaminated with bacteria can result in injection-site infections, and vitamin E preparations have short expiration dates,” he stated.

Having frozen colostrum from last year is advisable, according to Callan.

“If producers buy a colostrum product, they should make sure it is a replacer, not a supplement,” he said.

Hilton noted, “There is a huge variation in quality and effectiveness of products.”

He suggested finding a product with research and data behind it and speaking with a veterinarian about what to buy.

Callan suggested pressure-washing or steam-cleaning surfaces in calving barns pre-season.

“Strip out the base of barns and stalls and throw in new dirt or lime,” he said.

Callan also suggested keeping fresh bedding accessible, as well.

“Make sure that areas are clean, dry, strong, safe and functioning correctly,” stated Richard Randle, with University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.

Reducing disease

Planning ahead and being prepared can help increase the chances of success, Randle continued.

“Another important planning aspect for calving is where producers will put calving cows and cow/calf pairs,” stated Callan.

It is important to prevent scours and other infectious diseases. He suggested the use of multiple pastures and moving animals that haven’t calved every few weeks.

“This system takes advantage of multiple calving areas to reduce buildup and transmission of pathogens from older calves to younger calves,” he said.

He also suggested temporary electric fencing to divide pastures if multiple areas are not already available.

Hilton noted that herds calving or housed inside a barn are at a higher risk for problems including respiratory disease, naval ill and scours.

“But producers shouldn’t assume they won’t have problems just because they calve on grass,” he said.

“Although no vaccine is 100 percent efficacious, there is a benefit to using pre-calving vaccination in cows,” Tipton added.

Staying alert

Hilton warned producers not to become complacent, even if they traditionally work with easy-calving cows.

“That can lead to not being prepared for an emergency,” he stated.

“Don’t wait until the storm hits,” said Tipton, cautioning producers not to wait until a whole bunch of their cows get sick before calling for help with testing to find the underlying cause.

“I’ve seen it too many times where, by the time I get called out to a ranch, the producer has a mess on their hands, and it’s already two-thirds through calving season. It’s tough to get it straightened out overnight,” Tipton said.

Prevention

Prevention, he noted, has a bigger payoff than people realize.

“Be adaptable. Be quick in responding,” stated Tipton.

Reviewing calving season procedures with a veterinarian ahead of time can also be helpful for producers, and Randle noted that incorporating the local vet in procedures and taking suggestions from them is a wise pre-season exercise.

“Before calving season starts, review and develop a protocol,” suggested Randle.

He added that producers should plan for what to do, when to do it, who to call for help and how to know when help is needed.

“Review these plans with all family members or helpers. Make sure everyone is familiar with what to expect during a normal calving season and how to determine if there is a problem,” he said.

Randle concluded, “Having a plan and being prepared will help make the calving season a success.”

This article was compiled from articles in Beef Magazine, Drover’s CattleNetwork and an interview with Tad Tipton. 

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..