After a drought, cow nutrition is critical to calving success
Even though many cattlemen are weathering a hard grazing year and higher feed costs, cow condition is still pivotal at calving.
"Putting a limit on cow feeding, in terms of energy and protein, will not reduce calving problems or yield a smaller calf," says Ki Fanning, a nutritionist with Great Plains Consulting in Eagle, Neb. "However, it will result in a calf with less vigor and may result in a cow that does not breed as soon."
"I constantly get questions about whether a high level of nutrition will lead to increased dystocia in heifers," says Dan Goehl, a Canton, Mo., veterinarian. "Any increase in calf size, which will be slight, is offset by increased viability of the heifer and the calf."
At calving, cows should have a body condition score of 6, Fanning says. This ensures that the cow is able to maintain herself, deliver a healthy calf and milk that calf until it’s weaned. A cow’s body condition at calving also affects conception rates and how soon a cow returns to estrus.
"It is vital that we get cows bred back in a timely manner, which is directly correlated to body condition score at calving," Goehl says. "Feed and supplement choices need to be budgeted for this time period."
Calf considerations. "The drought conditions that we’ve been dealing with for the last 12 months or longer can also affect a cow’s colostrum quality," says Jeremy Powell, a veterinarian and associate professor of animal science at the University of Arkansas.
"The cow’s colostrum is composed mainly of antibodies, produced by the white blood cells. These antibodies are made up of protein. So, if she has been dealing with inadequate nutrition due to drought conditions, her colostrum quality could be negatively affected and might put the calf at higher risk for diseases," he says.
That’s why precalving vaccinations are so important. "The cow is going to build antibodies only to what she’s been vaccinated for or naturally exposed to," Powell adds.
"Typically, mature cows will have higher colostrum quality than first-calf heifers," he says. "That’s because heifers have been vaccinated only once or twice and haven’t developed the immunity that a mature cow has."
Before calving starts, remember the basic needs of a calf. Watch newborns closely to make sure they are in good health and active. Calves should be lying in a sternal position, on their chest, about 15 minutes after birth, and up and standing within an hour.
"It’s most important that the calf gets an adequate amount of colostrum, ideally from the cow or an over-the-counter colostrum mix," Powell says.
Beef calves need at least 2 qt. of colostrum or more, depending on the their size. If colostrum must be manually fed, Powell advises feeding 1 qt., waiting 30 to 40 minutes and then feeding another quart, so the calf’s intestinal tract is not overwhelmed.
"While you are doing that, dip the navel with a disinfectant to prevent any disease entry," Powell says.
"The longer you wait, the poorer the calf’s absorbability for colostrum," he adds.
While weather concerns, such as the current drought, are hard to manage, adequate cow nutrition leading up to and during calving season can help set the stage for healthy calves and herd productivity all year.
Be Ready to Assist, If Needed
As calving season approaches, make sure you have these tools on hand:
1. OB chains and handles.
2. Disinfectant. Always clean and disinfect OB chains and other equipment before placing them on the calf or into the birth canal.
3. Calf jack.
4. OB lubricant. Do not use soap and water.
5. Milk tube feeder.
6. Iodine for naval dip.
7. Veterinarian’s phone number.