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Winter Livestock Tips: Getting Ready for Calving Season

21:24PM Dec 30, 2014

As 2014 ends, cow calf producers are thinking about the approaching calving season. University of Missouri Extension livestock specialists believe 60 to 65 percent of this area's calves are born from January through April.

"The number born each month varies but February and early-March probably has the most activity," said Eldon Cole, livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension. "That means this is good time to work on some key management practices."

Cole says there are several management practices that need to be considered during calving season. Although preparation varies from farm to farm but here are some basics to consider.

"Sort cows as much as possible into appropriate management groups," said Cole. "At least separate the fall calvers, even late summer calves, from those due after Jan. 1."

It is also a good idea to sort mature cows away from first-calf heifers. Young females need closer attention and usually better quality feed to calve in a body condition score (BCS) of 6.

"First-calf heifers can be fed late in the day, just ahead of dark and they're more likely to calve in the daylight hours. This should please you and your veterinarian," said Cole.

Daylight-born calves actually have a greater chance of survival as the weather is a bit warmer than in the middle of the night.

It is also a good idea to select the most naturally protected pasture from north winds as a calving pasture. If the favored calving pasture doesn't have protection, big bales of hay (and cedar trees) may be considered as a windbreak.

"Now is also a good time to plan what you'll do for those severely chilled calves. Perhaps consider a calf warming box," said Cole.

If scours have been a persistent problem recently, a scour vaccine for the expectant cows and especially the heifers may be in order 6 to 9 weeks before the first females are due. The first year, a booster 3 to 6 weeks prior to calving, is required.

It is a good practice to feed springers adequately before calving and in early lactation. "Shorting them on protein and energy results in weaker calves, reduced milk production and slower return to estrus without benefit of reduced calving problems," said Cole.

It is also a good idea to begin feeding a high magnesium (10%) supplement a few weeks prior to calving. "Base your decision on past problems you have had with winter grass tetany. Keep the high mag supplement out until warm weather arrives, mid-April in the Ozarks," said Cole.

It is also a good idea to treat the herd for lice if not done recently.

"As the calving season begins, do your best to keep the age spread narrow between newborns and their older siblings by moving to cleaner pastures," said Cole.

If scours do occur, develop a routine of feeding, treating, and checking for calving that involves not transporting diseases form sick calves to healthy ones. Diseases can be carried on clothes, boots, gloves, etc.

Also note that feeding large hay packages in rings or feeders should be evaluated as they may become a trouble-spot for mud, manure, trampling of small calves. Cole says unrolling bales may be a better practice for sanitation plus newborns love to lie on the hay.

"I realize all of these tips may not be attainable, but do the very best you can. Remember, that baby calf you get started off on the right foot could be worth $1300 to $1500 in the fall of 2015," said Cole.

Source: University of Missouri Extension