Extension News

Calving Time Tips


AMES, Iowa -- Spring calving season is here, and so is the mud! The extreme weather conditions of this winter combined with recent rains have contributed to the likelihood of a challenging calving season. Wet weather conditions resulting in long-term mud are a daunting test to both the cow herd and the producer. 

From the cow side of things, producers strive to save as many calves as possible through a high level of management; by optimizing the herd’s health status by controlling scours, pneumonia, and other disease concerns; and maintaining a body condition that supports early rebreeding following calving. However, accomplishing these cow herd goals can be very difficult if extreme weather conditions remain in place for several weeks or longer during the calving season. 

For the producer, the challenges from a muddy, wet spring can lead to physical and mental anguish associated with the 2010 calving season.

Producers can work through these challenges by giving attention to the basics.

Check calving cows. Producers need to be flexible and responsive to the current situation. As a rule of thumb, check cows two to four times a day and first-calf heifers more frequently. When wet, muddy conditions persist, adjust the observation schedule to observe the calving animals more often. Collect all equipment and supplies that may be needed and store in an accessible location.

Administer colostrum. If a new-born calf has not sucked, be sure to administer colostrum (esophageal feeder or nursing bottle/bucket) soon after birth. One to two quarts is typically recommended within the first four hours.

Provide facility options. A handling facility that includes a head-gate is a necessity during the calving season, not only for dystocia problems but also when there are limited dry areas where newborn calves can be born or lie down. If possible, be flexible with the penning area so cows and newborn calves can be isolated to bond, nurse, etc. Keep the area bedded and free of mud. Also prepare an area to dry and warm chilled calves. 

Identify cow and calf. It is highly recommended that newborn calves have ear tags inserted or be tattooed. Producers are urged to record cow identification, calf identification, date of birth and other pertinent information that may be needed for future reference.

Monitor health issues. Monitor for scours and other health issues such as pneumonia.  Producers are recommended to consult with their veterinarian to prevent, identify and treat animals that have health concerns. Producers may want to review options for moving cows to clean, sod-covered pastures. However, note that pasture areas may be damaged due to the wet conditions, impacting forage production for the upcoming growing season.

Attend to cow nutritional needs. Lactating cows have a significantly higher nutrient requirement compared to gestating cows, especially when environmental conditions such as mud increase maintenance requirements. Consult your ISU Extension beef program specialist to review your lactation feeding program. It is important to maintain cow's body condition in order to conceive early in the upcoming breeding season.

Other cow-calf practices that need to be considered include the following:

Initiate recordkeeping. Start the recordkeeping process. It is recommended that producers transfer the calving book information to a permanent system. This expands information that will be useful in making future decisions and participating in value-added programs.

Continue grass tetany prevention. Spring is grass tetany season. Feed a mineral mix that contains appropriate magnesium levels and be sure cows consume adequate amounts. One to two ounces of magnesium oxide per head per day is appropriate.

Prepare bulls for breeding season. Producers should finalize plans for the upcoming breeding season. This process includes having bulls in adequate body condition for breeding. Order semen if an artificial insemination program is planned. 

Finalize vaccination program. Don’t forget to plan a vaccination program for calves to prevent clostridial diseases (Blackleg, Malignant edema). Consider this process in late April or early May.

The Iowa Beef Center at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, was established in 1996 with the goal of supporting the growth and vitality of the state’s beef cattle industry. It serves as the university’s extension program to cattle producers and is comprised of faculty and staff from ISU Extension and the colleges of agriculture and life sciences and veterinary medicine. Together, the Iowa Beef Center’s members work to develop and deliver the latest in research-based information regarding the beef cattle industry. For more information about the Iowa Beef Center, visit them online at www.iowabeefcenter.org or http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/iowabeef.

Contacts :

Byron Leu , Field Specialist, (641) 472-4166, bleu@iastate.edu

Denise Schwab , Field Specialist, (319) 642-5504, dschwab@iastate.edu

Willy Klein, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0662, wklein@iastate.edu