Next few months critical in beef operations
The next several months are crucial in securing potential profits in a majority of beef operations throughout the U.S.
"The No. 1 indicator of potential profits is the birth of a live calf, and to have a live calf next year, the cows need to become pregnant," says Carl Dahlen, North Dakota State University Extension Service beef cattle specialist.
"The time from calving to rebreeding brings the most dramatic changes a cow will experience in her lifetime," he adds. "During the span of just three months, cows in the herd will be expected to have a calf, start lactating, recover from calving and get pregnant again. With all of these changes occurring, producers need to concentrate on the successful delivery of calves, health of the cow and calf, and cow nutrition during the window of calving to rebreeding."
To ensure the delivery of a live calf, producers must watch for cows that are starting to calve. Once those cows are identified, they must be monitored for signs of progress. If cows are having difficulty, producers may have to assist them.
Producers assisting with the delivery of a calf must work with the cow and her contractions. Pulling a calf is not a race, and any harm caused to the cow or calf may delay the start of the cow's estrus cycles, increase the likelihood of calf mortality or reduce calf growth rates.
After a calf is born, having a good supply of colostrum for the calf is critical. Ideally, calves should consume colostrum within six hours after birth.
Calves not suckling need help to suckle from their mothers or receive an alternative supply of colostrum or colostrum replacement products.
"Be cautious with feeding colostrum from unknown sources or cows that may be infected with Johne's disease," Dahlen warns. "Johne's can be transmitted through the colostrum to calves."
A majority of calf deaths occur in the first months after birth, so producers need to identify and treat sick calves. They should monitor calves closely for signs of enterotoxemia (overeating disease), pneumonia, scours and other common calf illnesses and work with their veterinarians to identify appropriate preventative and treatment protocols.
Producers also should have appropriate medications on hand to treat calves as soon as they meet the herd's established treatment criteria. Calves treated early after developing an illness are not only more likely to respond to treatment, but also are likely to perform better compared with calves not receiving timely treatment.