Calving time tips from an expert
By Gene Johnston
Successful Farming Magazine Managing Editor
'Rob Callan, a veterinarian with Colorado State University, gave a few calf-saving tips to producers during the Cattlemen's College at the Cattle Industry Convention in San Antonio.
First, he said, you need to know when to assist a cow that may be having a problem delivery. A cow can take from 1 to 8 hours of getting ready to calve before her water breaks. After that, she should make some progress every 30 minutes - a foot showing, a second foot showing, a nose showing. If progress seems to be stalled after 30-60 minutes, it may be time to intervene.
Then, if you do have to assist in delivery, it's best if the cow is laying down. If the cow is standing, you have to lift the calf up and over her pelvic bone. If she is laying down, you don't have to lift up, and it takes 30% less force to deliver the calf, says Callan.
Some cows will lay down naturally when you start pulling on the calf. If a cow doesn't lay down on her own, cinch a rope around her belly; most cows will lay down. As you pull the calf, Callan says it helps to gently twist the lower leg over the upper leg, causing the calf's body to twist slightly as it moves through the cow's pelvis. This will prevent the calf from hip-locking.
A normal calf should be laying up on his sternum within 15 minutes of delivery, trying to stand. He should have suckle response in 30 minutes, and be standing up by 60 minutes of age.
It's important that the body temperature of newborn calves stay above 100 degrees. If possible, take calves' temperatures immediately after birth. Typically, their temperatures will be about 103 degrees right at delivery, then begin to drop within the first 1-3 hours.
If a calf's temperature drops below 100 degrees, it is in some distress. Get it into a warm water bath, or better yet, a heated hut with direct heat from a lamp or heater.
"I like the hut idea best, because it means the calf is breathing warm air into his lungs," says Callan. "That's even more important than getting warmth to his outer body."
If a calf is having trouble suckling or getting going in general, it's important to get colostrum into him. Do this with either a stomach tube, or a nipple bottle if he'll suckle.
"But don't give him too much, only about a quart," says Callan. "Any more than that, and you might fill him up so much that he's not hungry, and he won't try to suckle. We want him to try to suckle as soon as possible, to build that bond with the cow."
Callan says that your most gentle cows, the ones that are easiest to milk, are the best source of supplemental colostrum. After a cow's own calf has suckled, milk out a quart or so and freeze it. Her own calf will not miss it. It will be available for a later problem calf, or it can keep for an entire year if need be and still be viable when thawed.
Callan likes the practice of putting a nose tube with oxygen on problem calves. "My experience is that calves that aren't getting enough oxygen don't nurse very well. Supplemental oxygen can help them get going."
When calves are going good, Callan likes to see them moved out from calving pens to group nursing pastures. He'd prefer that calves in nursing pastures all be within three weeks of age of each other.
After three weeks, start putting new calves in a different nursing pen. This keeps the age range in each nursing pen at three weeks or less. The reason is that older calves can shed bugs that cause calf scours, even though they may not be scouring themselves. New young calves may not be able to fight off those bugs.'