Telling Month for Cattle Ranchers

Telling Month for Cattle Ranchers

The month of March signals two seemingly very different events, basketball playoffs and for many ranchers, the peak of calving season.

"On the surface they may not have much in common, but they both represent the end point of a lot of time, energy and resources," said Warren Rusche, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist.

Rusche takes this analogy one step further. "The goal of a basketball team is to make a deep run in the playoffs and the goal of a rancher is to save as many calves as possible," he said.

Preparation, Rusche said is the key component for success in both fields. "For a rancher, success during calving is critical. More than 60 percent of calves that are born and die before weaning are either born dead or are lost within the first 24 hours of birth," said Rusche quoting data from the USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System. "Calving difficulty is the most significant cause of death."

Preparation = Success

"Being well prepared for the start of calving season can make a tremendous difference in successfully getting live calves on the ground," Rusche said.

He explained that it is a lot easier to get all the necessary supplies on hand and in place ahead of time, rather than scrambling in the dark when the first heifer needs some help.

To ensure timeliness of preparation, he suggested cattle producers review gestation tables as well as breeding and turn-out dates to predict when the first calves will be expected.

"However, some cows don't read the book," Rusche said. "It's not at all uncommon for genetic lines that have been selected for easier calving and lower birth weights to show a tendency for shorter gestation as well."

In those cases, he said it would be prudent to be ready a week to 10 days earlier than what the gestation table suggests.

Ensuring that everyone on the team understands the game plan and their role is also important. "Going over the plan for calving season with the entire team is a good idea to make sure that everyone is on the same page, even if the plan hasn't changed and even if the team is only one person," Rusche said.

He added that factors such as when to provide assistance and knowing when to call your veterinarian can impact not only this year's production, but future calf crops as well.

Rusche referenced research from the Ft. Keogh Research Station in Miles City, Mont., which showed that heifers which were assisted later during labor had a 19 percent reduced pregnancy rate compared to heifers that were helped within a half hour (Table 1).

Even in cows, the research demonstrated a 9 percent improvement in pregnancy rates by assisting earlier.

"Given the value of bred females this year, being prepared to assist early will help increase the odds of getting cattle bred back in a timely manner and lower the losses from premature culling," Rusche said.

Reviewing the actual procedures of delivering calves can also be useful, even if a producer has years of experience.

Below are some general recommendations from Russ Daly, SDSU Extension VeterinarianAssociate Professor, and State Public Health Veterinarian:

  1. Take a short pause after the chest of the calf is delivered before pulling again. This mimics what happens in a normal delivery. When the calf takes its first breath it begins to transition away from oxygen from the umbilical cord to oxygen from the air.
  2. A slight rotation (45 degrees) often allows the hips to pass more easily.
  3. Use a piece of straw or vigorous rubbing to encourage the calf to breathe. One might think that picking up the calf with his head down would help get fluid out of his breathing passages, but actually that creates increased pressure on the lungs making it more difficult to breathe.
  4. Call for assistance if one can't determine how to correct the problem or if 30 minutes of assistance have gone by without significant progress.

Source: SDSU Extension

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