(Note: The Pontotoc County Cattlemen’s Association and OSU Extension Office will be hosting an estate planning meeting on Tuesday in the north meeting room of the Agri-Plex beginning with a meal at 5:30 p.m. The speaker will be JJ Jones, area ag economist and JC Hobbs, State Farm management specialist. This meeting is free and open to the public, but please RSVP for the meal by calling (580) 332-2153.)
Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar is quoted as saying, “Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes.” Most of us do a really good job with management while expecting the best, but sometimes we lack in preparing for the worst. With the fall calving season rapidly approaching, there are steps that we all can take to prepare for an “easy” calving season.
Prior to calving, we need to be mindful of our herd’s nutritional needs. Monitoring the cows’ body condition is the best indicator for proper nutrition. It is recommended to have cows calving in a body condition score (BCS) of at least 5 and heifers calving in a BCS of 6. This recommendation is based on the ability for the female to recuperate from the stress of calving and be ready once breeding season begins. Try to avoid the BCS extremes. If a female is in a low BCS, she may not have the energy and strength to give birth without complications. On the other hand, if a female is in an extremely high BCS she may have too much fat taking up space around the birthing canal and could increase the incidence of dystocia. Research has also shown that the better nutritional health the cow is in at calving time, the better the quality of colostrum will be for the calf. By passing more immunoglobulins, it will ensure a stronger immune system for the calf.
While preparing for the worst, think about problems that might arise at 2 o’clock in the morning. Midnight is not the time to start thinking about gathering panels and moving cattle closer to the working facilities.
Calving areas should be clean and close to the handling facility. It is recommended to calve out on a grass pasture that has not been grazed in at least 2 months. This allows time to eliminate harmful bacteria from the pasture before baby calves are born. If assistance is needed the handling facility needs to have a way to properly restrain the cow that is safe for the cow and handler. Although it may not always be possible, it is recommended that the facility have a clean concrete floor, access to hot and cold water, and good lighting. Several equipment manufacturers have developed a calving pen that has a head gate to capture the pregnant female without squeezing her body. This pen allows for access to assist with the birth and access to both sides of the female to allow the calf to nurse.
Much like have clean facilities, having your calving tools clean and readily available will eliminate a lot of headache. The tools that are recommended to have available are OB sleeves, lots of lube, OB chains, OB handles, a calf jack, a stainless steel bucket, a sterilizing solution (Nolvasan or Betadine), and possibly a head snare. These tools will allow producers to assist most females that incur problems. Learn how to properly use these tools safely. Some may notice that a 4-wheeler or tractor was not on that list, it is because you should never use anything besides 1-2 people pulling to assist at birth. If the job cannot be accomplished by pulling with the chains or calf jack, you should contact a veterinarian. Pulling too hard can cause significant damage to the female.
Preparing to keep good records is the easiest thing to do on the list. Have a calving book ready, or have spreadsheets ready to record all calving information possible. If you never record your calving information, then you can never go back and look at any of the important data you might need for culling or selection.
Some important information you will need are the calf’s individual ID, birth date, birth weight and sex. The hardest record to keep on that list is the birth weight because not everyone has scales set up to weigh every calf, but the use of a hoof tape will allow you to closely estimate the calf’s birth weight without ever lifting the animal. Record any assistance that was needed and any other notes relating to calving ease and calf vigor.
Pounds of calf weaned per exposed female is the ultimate measure of a herd’s efficiency; therefore, we need to all we can do to ensure that every calf hits the ground running. Spending an hour on the planning of your upcoming calving season could eliminate several hours of work when time is crucial.