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Experts highlight reviving new born calves, economic questions and cold weather management

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The Kansas State University (KSU) Beef Cattle Institute’s (BCI) podcast Cattle Chat hosted KSU Veterinarians Bob Larson and Brian Lubbers, BCI Clinical Assistant Professor Phillip Lancaster, KSU Associate Professor Dustin Pendell and KSU Associate Professor A.J. Tarpoff to discuss several topics impacting cattle producers.

Reviving new born calves 

When newborn calves are born, they can be a bit sluggish. Therefore, the panelists highlight several important recommendations when it comes to reviving them. 

Larson, Lubbers, Lancaster, Pendell and Tarpoff recommend having a towel on hand, so when calves are born, producers can get the calf up, place it on its chest and vigorously rub it. 

“It’s all about neurostimulation to try to get the calf to start breathing,” mentions Tarpoff. “This first breath really needs to happen, and Mother Nature says neurostimulation is the best thing to get the calf to start breathing.” 

In most instances, cows will stand up and lick their calves. However, after a difficult birth, calves may struggle, and the cow might not be quick to get back up on her feet and lick the calf off, note the experts. 

If a calf is born without assistance, producers usually don’t need to do much, but there are some key factors indicating the calf may need some extra help, says the panel.  

“One of them is if a calf is covered in a yellowish fluid. This is not normal and indicates a stressed calf,” says Tarpoff. “It was stressed prior to the birthing process, then coming through the birth canal. We call this meconium. When I see things like this, regardless if I’ve intervened or not, I’m going to try to intervene.”

Two factors indicating a calf may need additional help is they either had a difficult birth or they won’t suckle. 

“Suckling is a neuro-reflex, so, it should happen fairly quickly,” says Tarpoff. “Sometimes it’s delayed, but this reflex is an excellent indicator if a calf is in need of further assistance.”

Additionally, it is critical calves receive colostrum. While many producers prefer the cow to take over, they may need to intervene, notes Tarpoff.

Recent publications discuss several stimulants for newborns. Though they have not been tested in calves, Lubbers notes caffeine is a stimulant that may be used, and doxapram is a drug that can help if a calf is not breathing. 

“Another one I’ve seen producers use for premature calves is a steroid like dexamethasone. This has some benefits in very select cases as it can help stimulate a compound to breakup mucous in the lungs,” he says. 

He further notes all of these are going to be used in very select cases.

The panelist encourages producers to mimic Mother Nature and use what is proven and has been around for a long time – getting the calf up, neurostimulation to help them start breathing and suckling. 

Economic questions 

In the summer of 2022, exports have been in the news after Japan signed a bilateral trade agreement stating the U.S. can continue to export beef, notes Pendell.

“We can actually export more beef without having higher tariffs,” he mentions. “It’s good for producers and ranchers.”

When looking at the U.S. Meat Federation, there is a lot of good data out there, and the industry had a good 2022 from an export standpoint, Pendell further notes. Comparing data to the previous three quarters of 2021, 2022 export volumes were up four percent over the previous year in terms of value at 18 percent. 

“The industry is sitting at about over $10 billion in 2022,” shares Pendell. “When the U.S. exports beef, we export products either high in value or products that won’t be consumed in the U.S. – liver, tongues, etc.”

“As we think about export and various markets, the top five export market value countries include Korea, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Mexico and Canada,” he says. 

He mentions in the first nine months of the quarter, the U.S. exported, on a per head basis, $106 per head to Korea, $102 per head to Hong Kong, $92 per head to Japan, $36 per head to Mexico and $32 per head to Canada.

“The reason why we talk about export markets is it does increase value to the carcass, which ultimately gets back to the producers – it’s something to keep in mind,” he says. 

Cold weather management 

During cold snaps there are several factors producers need to keep in mind. 

“The first thing I’m going to be concerned about is water source, even though cattle drink less water in the wintertime than they do during the summer,” says Larson. 

Lubbers adds having a dry shelter will be important. Since temperature change between an animal with a dry hide versus an animal with a wet hide is huge, keeping livestock dry and out of the wind can have a significant difference on their well-being. 

“During these extreme cold spells, a shelter is a good idea,” he shares.  

Lancaster adds producers may want to consider supplementing livestock if an extended cold spell is forecasted. 

“If producers are already supplementing, they should increase the amount. If not, they should start feeding a little bit of energy supplement. Energy requirements are going to go up 50 to 100 percent,” he notes. “A good rule of thumb is to keep starch content of a feed supplement to less than one-half percent of body weight so it doesn’t negatively affect forage digestion.” 

Cattle Chat Host Brad White adds upkeeping cattle’s body condition scores through the winter and feeding hay bales or letting cattle graze cornstalks will also help when temperatures are low.

Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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