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Calving season is here

By Richard C. Snell

Barton County Extension Agent, agriculture

"I kept on looking for a sign in the middle of the night, but I couldn't see the light, no I couldn't see the light. I kept on looking for a way to take me through the night, but I couldn't get it right, no I just couldn't get it right." This sounds like how a rancher might feel at calving time. Actually those are the words of a 1976 hit song by the Climax Blues Band.

Calving season is here for a vast majority of beef cattle producers. A lot of cow-calf producers still calve from late January to late February. A lot of management is required when this time arrives.

Actually, I never liked that getting up in the middle of the night to check heifers and looking for a sign that they might be calving and need assistance. I preferred cows that had at least one calf. These days we have discovered that if you feed in the evening after 5 p.m., at around dusk, prior to calving, most of your calves will be born in the daylight hours.

Before we get into those critical management practices, I should note that there is some controversy in the beef industry about calving date. We have not only seen some shift to fall calving but also a number of "renegades" are going to anywhere from March to May calving. A lot of the sermons preached by university researchers and private consultants are supporting this late spring move to coincide with the grass resources. Each time frame has its pluses and minuses and I may expound on them in another column.

Calving time is harvest time, so be there. Supervision is especially important for heifers or cows who are more likely to need help. Be prepared for calving, especially calving adversities and difficult births.

Calve in a clean paddock, shed, or pasture which cattle have not used for 12 months. It is important to keep newborn calves out of mud and manure. This can best be done by having pasture grass, straw, or clean sand as a bedding.

In terms of health, colostrum for the calf is a top priority. Calves should receive at least 2 quarts of colostrum during the first 6 hours of life. You should make sure the calf nurses. You may have to help get the calf's nose up to the udder in some cases--if the mother will let you. However, give the calf adequate time to do it on its own before you help.

Always keep frozen colostrum on hand. You can either milk out a cow that has just calved, go to a dairy, or to your veterinarian to get colostrum just in case you have a calf that won't nurse or a cow that won't take. Colostrum is the first milk a cow gives the first couple of days after giving birth. It has a lot of antibodies that provides a calf with disease immunity early in life. If a calf doesn't get that, it will be a "poor doer" throughout life.

It is important to watch for scours (diarrhea) in young calves. Have your veterinarian supply electrolyte solution and antibiotic preparation for calves. Some producers give these routinely at birth--others give them to only sick calves. Work with your veterinarian closely so you can get their ideas on this.

As you are making preparations for calving, here's a few things to consider. Make provision to keep calves dry directly after calving. If you have access to a shed or barn, it's a good idea to have "heat boxes" or heat lamps ready for chilled or weak calves. Separate pregnant cows from cows with calves. Considering providing a calf loafing area inside a dry building where cows cannot go. Also, have iodine available to disinfect newborn navels.

The life of the cow and calf is well worth an early call to your veterinarian. As I mentioned earlier, check cows frequently and give first-calf heifers extra attention. Calving difficulties are ahead when you see any of the following: Only the calf's tail is visible, only the head is visible, the front feet protrude past the knees but the calf's nose cannot be located, the head and one foot are visible, or more than two feet are visible.

This is the part of the song about not getting it right. If after two hours of cow labor there is no progress in delivery, secure help. When pulling a calf, use a sash cord or calf chain and pull down, not straight out. If a mechanical calf puller is used, be sure the presentation of the calf is normal.

By following these tips, cattlemen should save some extra calves this winter and spring. For additional help and information, producers can check out the two video tapes we have at the Barton County Extension Office. They are entitled "How to Save More Calves at Calving".

Central Plains Irrigation Conference

Colby, Kansas has the good fortune to host this year's Central Plains Irrigation Conference, Feb. 24 to 25 at the City Limits Convention Center. The event begins at 10 a.m., Feb. 24 and ends by 3 p.m., Feb. 25.

A top notch line-up of speakers will cover these topics: Crop and Weather Interaction, Optimizing Crop Water Productivity, Center Pivot Sprinkler Considerations, Subsurface Drip Irrigation, Irrigation Technology and Energy, Economic Issues Facing Irrigation, and a Central Plains Water Policy Panel Discussion. There will also be a trade show expositions.

The cost is $75 for most farmers or $85 if you want Certified Crop Advisor Credits. E-mail Donna Lamm at donnalamm@yahoo.com or call her at 785-462-7574 to register.

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