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Prepping for Calving Season

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

As calving season approaches, it is important ranchers prepare in advance to ensure they are meeting nutritional requirements of cows and first-time calving heifers. Additionally, it is important that producers have a good calving management plan to reduce the risk of calf loss.

Winter weather, along with moving into late gestation, causes additional stress on cattle and increases their nutritional requirements. An effective winter nutritional management plan can improve the profitability and performance of the herd. Meeting the nutritional requirements of cattle in late gestation influences the success the herd will breed back and  calf performance. 

Nutritional management

A study by Mullinks in 2020 explained calves born from nutrient-restricted dams during late gestation were shown to have reduced immunity. Additionally, the recommended optimal body condition scores (BCS) for calving and breeding season are scores between a five or six. 

However, not feeding enough during weather changes and reduced forage availability can make achieving the optimum BCS before calving difficult, as cattle can easily drop a BCS in 30 days or less.

The last chance to economically increase BCS on a cow during late gestation is the last 90 days prior to calving, because after calving, their nutritional requirements increases due to lactation. To improve a BCS on thin cattle post-calving, large amounts of high-quality feed will be required. Therefore, it is important for producers to understand in cattle moving from mid to late gestation, energy requirements increase by 25 percent and protein requirements increase by 10 percent. 

Additionally, windy, cold and wet weather for a week or more may increase energy requirements of cattle by 10 to 30 percent. To improve the nutritional management of a herd during winter months, producers should obtain a nutrient analysis for their forage and hay and sort cows into nutritional need groups – cows versus heifers, separating thin cattle. 

Prioritize higher quality feed for younger and thinner cattle, and have a supplementation plan ready for winter months and late gestation. Be willing to adjust nutritional needs during stress periods, and monitor cattle using BCS to adjust feed/supplementation to assure the herd BCS is in the ideal rage. Ensuring nutritional requirements of cows are met and having a calving management plan can improve livestock performance and profitability. 

Calving complications

Every year a significant number of calves are lost at birth due to complications during calving (Niemeyer, 2021). Several factors can contribute to calving complications and can be categorized into three main categories: calf effects (heavy birth weights), cow effects (cow age/maturity, pelvic size and nutrition) and fetal position at birth. 

Thinner cows have shown to have higher calving complications, are prone to calving weaker calves and take longer to recover. However, obsessively fat cattle can also create calving complications as they have increased pelvic fat, which decreases the birth canal. Therefore, it is important cattle are in the ideal BCS range to reduce calving issue due to nutrition. The ideal BCS for cows is five and the ideal BCS for heifers is 5.5 to six. 

Making sure cattle are in ideal nutritional range is not the only important thing to do before calving. Ensuring producers have proper facilities, equipment and proper calving assistance procedures can also assist in reducing the risk of calf loss. Having supplies such as a thermometer, disinfectant, calf esophageal tube, colostrum, electrolytes, chains/straps/puller, syringes and needles, towel/blankets, etc. during calving season is very beneficial. 

Additionally, frequently observing the herd, especially first-time calving heifers and assisting immediately when needed can help reduce calf loss. It is encouraged producers wait no longer than two to three hours after labor begins to provide birthing assistance. 

If assistance is needed, it is important to take the proper precautions to prevent injuries to the new-born calf and remove mucus from the calf’s nose and mouth immediately.  It is also important producers ensure the calf nurses within an hour after birth. Producers can give colostrum to weak calves. If calves have scours, it is important to treat as soon as possible and electrolytes are given to calves to avoid dehydration. 

Additionally, providing shelter or dry bedding can also help reduce calf loss due to hyperthermia. If producers have a calf suffering of minor hyperthermia, try and warm up the calf by rubbing it with a dry towel or moving it to a warm area to raise its body temperature to a normal temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit, then feed it warm colostrum. 

If producers have any questions or immediately need assistance, it is recommended they contact a local veterinarian to reduce calf losses. Proper calving management is important to reduce the number of calves lost during calving season. Therefore, a good calving management can be economically beneficial.

Alex Orozco is a University of Wyoming Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator. He can be reached at 

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