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Be prepared for calving season

Beef cow-calf producers can anticipate the most likely and most costly hazards to their cows and calves at calving time, according to University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. They can use this knowledge to plan for their disease and stress prevention program. Minimizing the risk of these hazards requires long- and near-term planning.

Many producers will be calving beginning in mid-January on through April. Moving the cows to a bit better diet a couple of months ahead of calving helps the cow feed the growing calf and maintain her own condition score. Condition scoring cows is a proven method of keeping the cow in condition and preventing calving problems before they happen.

Calving problems may occur because of factors of the calf or the dam. Planning ahead for calving problems and close monitoring of the herd during calving can minimize the likelihood and/or cost of dystocia. Environmental conditions such as weather or physical hazards in the calving area are also important sources of injury to cows and calves. Planning to calve during favorable weather seasons and monitoring the environment for dangerous conditions minimizes the risk of these hazards.

A common cause of sickness or death of baby calves is diarrhea. Understanding the complex interactions that cause calf diarrhea is the basis for developing strategies for disease control and prevention. The pathogens which cause calf diarrhea are common to most cattle herds, and it is unlikely that cattle producers could remove these agents. Managers are going to be most successful in using multiple approaches to keep cows and calves healthy. Start by getting two quarts of colostrum into the calf with or without the mother’s help. Vaccines are helpful but not always fully protective. Colostrum immunity wanes, making calves age-susceptible and age-infective. Each calf serves as growth media for pathogen production; amplifying the dose-load of pathogen it received and resulting in high calf-infectivity and widespread environmental contamination over time in a calving season.

Understanding the concepts of the Sandhills Calving System can help producers apply it in their operations. The Sandhills Calving System utilizes a series of calving pastures to minimize newborn calves’ contact with disease agents. The idea is to minimize both the disease load and newborns’ exposure to the disease agents until their immune systems are better able to withstand them. Dr. Dave Smith, University of Nebraska Extension veterinarian, says, “I like to say we’re creating eight, one-week calving seasons rather than one, eight-week calving season. We want a clean calving area without the presence of older calves that may be shedding pathogens.”

The first calves are born, and calving continues for two weeks. After two weeks, the cows that haven’t calved are moved to calving area two, with cow-calf pairs remaining behind. After a week of calving the cows that haven’t calved are moved to calving area three.

With each subsequent week, cows that haven’t calved are moved to a new area, and pairs remain in their pasture of birth. The result Smith says, “is a series of pastures that contain calves all born within one week of each other. Cattle from different pastures can be commingled after the youngest calf is four weeks of age. The age segregation prevents pathogen transfer from older calves to the younger calves. And moving pregnant cows to new calving pastures helps minimize the pathogen load in the environment, as well as a newborn calf’s exposure time to those pathogens.” Smith says, “the key component is the age segregation of calves and the movement to new calving areas for cows that haven’t calved, rather than moving pairs.”

Adopting the system that requires multiple calving areas vs. a single traditional calving yard necessitates some planning.

Date: 12/23/2013



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