Be ready to help heifers and cows during calving season

Veterinarian reviews steps for cattle producers before and after calving
calendar icon 3 April 2024
clock icon 2 minute read

Kansas State University veterinarian Gregg Hanzlicek said being prepared ahead of calving season is the best way for producers to assure they will bring home the newborn calves successfully.

“We're approaching the end of the second trimester and moving into the third trimester which means the metabolic demands of that cow or heifer are going to increase tremendously,” Hanzlicek said.

A key to having a successful calving and production season is for cows and heifers to be in the appropriate body condition, which is a score of 5-7, according to Hanzlicek.

Also, Hanzlicek recommends establishing a clean calving area to help reduce the risk of scours. 

“There are two major risk factors for scours,” he said. “One is the lack of colostrum consumption. The other is a contaminated environment that the babies are born into.”

Hanzlicek recommends having a location to move the pairs out of the calving area to keep the calving facility less contaminated with the scour organisms.

Getting the calf here safely is another factor to consider.  

"Most operations are going to have to help at least one animal during the calving season,” Hanzlicek said. The last national survey indicated that 1 of every 100 heifers and 2 of every 100 adult cows will need assistance.

Be prepared to pull a calf 

Hanzlicek said producers should have the following items on hand:

  • Clean straps or chains
  • OB sleeves
  • Lube
  • Working calf pullers
  • Veterinarian's phone number

Intervening at an appropriate time is important. “If we intervene too early and the cow or heifer is not dilated, we can injure the tissues and hurt the calf,” Hanzlicek said. “If we intervene too late, a lot of times that’s when we end up with stillborn calves.”

According to Hanzlicek, once a cow has reached the second stage of labor, they should give birth within 30 minutes. A heifer should calve within an hour. Second stage labor is when the heifer or cow can be observed experiencing uterine contractions, or the water-bag or calf’s feet are visible.

If assistance from the producer is needed, and they are unable to extract the calf within 15 minutes, then help – either a veterinarian or someone with more experience – should be called.

Following calving, the calf should be up and nursing within two hours, Hanzlicek said. If not, a colostrum replacer can be given to help get the calf started.

“Colostrum-based powders are the best way to go, and I would recommend that every producer have one or two bags of powder replacer on-hand during the calving season,” Hanzlicek said.

Kansas State Research and Extension

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