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Preparing for the calving season

By By Justin Rodgers / 4-H youth agent
Oct. 5, 2003
Are you prepared for the calving season on your farm? The fall calving season has already started for many of you.
This is perhaps the most important part of the year for beef cattle producers, since live calves represent potential profit and failure to deliver calves means certain loss.
Since calving is much easier to keep on eye on during daylight hours, producers should encourage calving during that time of day. How do you get cows to calve during the daylight hours? Researchers have found that cattle fed in the late afternoon are more likely to calve during the daylight hours.
The exact reason is not known, but researchers have observed a marked decrease in rumen activity in the hours just before calving. By feeding at night, the cows' rumens are less active during daylight hours, thus contributing to a higher incidence of daylight calving.
Studies have shown that cattle fed between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. calved between the hours of 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. 79 percent of the time.
A similar study in Iowa showed that cattle fed at dusk calved between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. 85 percent of the time. So, I guess the question for you as producers is do you want to feed your cattle at night or pull calves during the calving season at night?
The stages
There are three different stages of calving for cattle.
Stage 1 consists of the beginning of uterine contractions and entry of the calf into the birth canal. Heifers usually show more of these signs than mature cows. A stage of restlessness and isolation from the rest of the herd will occur.
Stage 2 consists of passage of the fetus through the birth canal. Once the front feet appear, they should progress and never recede or disappear in normal delivery. The soles of the feet are pointed down, toes first. This is a normal presentation. If soles are down and heels are first, you have a posterior, or hind legs first, presentation. Recent studies show this process should only last for 60 minutes in first calf heifers and 30 minutes in mature cows.
Stage 3 includes the passing of the fetal membranes and closure of the cervix.
How to help
How long is too long to wait before assisting cattle with birthing situations? Textbooks have traditionally stated that two to four hours was a normal time for the passing of the calf down the birth canal.
New research shows a normal stage to be 30 to 60 minutes. New recommendations say that if a heifer is not making significant progress in stage 2 within 1 hour of the water bag breaking, try to give assistance if possible.
Mature cows should be progressing within 30 minutes or assistance may be needed. Be sure to watch your cattle closely at delivery time and give them assistance if needed. Be sure you have skilled assistance readily available if needed.
Immediately after birth be sure all airways are cleared of mucous and fetal fluids. The calf may need to be dried if the weather is excessively cold. Caution should be taken with first calf heifers not to apply too much human scent that could cause the calf to be rejected by the dam.
Calving is a big part of a successful beef operation. Give it the attention it needs. It will assist you in making your beef cattle enterprise a profitable one.
For more information on calving difficulties, call your local County Extension Service at 482-9764.