Disclaimer – this is the first year I’ve been working full time during calving season- EVER!!!
Now that we have the disclaimer out of the way, calving season has begun. Someone decided we should calve out our heifers prior to the cows this year. Someone said it’d make it easier to have the heifers to watch more closely then we could stretch out the time between checks. Someone said we’d better get the heifers bred before it got too hot last summer. Someone got his way.
Today there were two new babies. One was out of a show heifer from last year and the other out of a replacement. Amazingly, and quite contrary to popular belief, the show heifer seems to be the calmer momma and actually the better momma. I think there are nearly 10 babies in the calving pen now. Usually we’ve not even begun to calve until after this weekend.
So, what do we do to prepare for calving season?
About 6 weeks ago we ran the heifers through the chute and gave them a vacination to prevent scours in the babies. You see, scours are a lot like rotavirus in humans. It’s one of the leading causes of calf deaths from the age of 4 days to 2 months of age. When a calf gets scours, his immune system becomes quite compromised and that calf will often get a secondary infection. If not caught and treated quickly, the calf goes down hill quickly. Therefore, we vaccinate our heifers to try to build up immunity for the calves.
After vaccination, we turn the heifers out into the pasture that’s next to our calving pen and barn. While we wait for them to get closer to calving, the guys clean out the calving lot and put down bedding. For bedding in the calving shed, we use cornstalks and unroll the big round bales by hand. This will provide a clean and dry place for the cows to give birth.
Once we’re within a couple of weeks of calving, we bring those closest to their due dates or are showing the most signs of calving to the pen. And, once the cows are up, we begin our around the clock checks of them. Our schedule runs every 3 hours: 12, 3, 6, 9, repeat…..24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I get the 9 pm and 6 am checks. It’s the last one before I go to bed and the first one before I go to work. Mike gets the 12 am as that’s when he gets home from work, 9 am and 12 noon. Chris is the one who seems to have drawn the short straw this year. He has the 3 am, 3 pm and 6 pm checks. It’s that 3 am check that’s tough. I used to do it, but now that I’m working full time, that would be a killer time for me to check. Another thing we’re trying this year (thanks to Chris for the planning and implementation of the plan) is to keep the cows away from their feed from 7 am to 6 pm. They get to eat overnight and the theory is that they shouldn’t be calving while they’re eating and digesting. So far, so good. All the calves have been born during the day with only one being born after 6 pm.
We also stock the freezer with freeze dried colostrum and electrolytes. If a calf doesn’t nurse within the first 6 hours we try to give them colostrum mixed with electrolytes. Research has shown that not getting colostrum in the first 12 hours of life significantly impacts a calf’s immune system. We’ve decided that stepping in is well worth the cost to keep a calf healthy.
We also make sure we have disinfectant and lube in the laundry room along with the calf puller chains and bucket. If a cow is having a problem calving, we put an ounce of disinfectant and a little ob lube in the bucket with warm water. We then toss in the chains to be sure they’re disinfected. It’s important to keep everything sterile when you’re reaching into a cow to find the calf’s feet to assist it into the world. We also have oxytocin on hand to help the cow’s cervix dilate and open up to make the delivery of the calf easier on the momma.
We also have an ob needle and thread to stitch up a cow if she should tear when calving or if she would happen to prolapse. We used to have to call our local vet anytime a cow would prolapse. We have watched, asked questions and learned how to clean and replace a prolapsed uterus and stitch it back up. Not only does doing ourselves save us money, it also lessens the chance of infection because the uterus isn’t out as long and exposed to whatever germs might abound. Most of the time, it takes a minimum of an hour to get a vet here.
As you read above, we are well prepared to pull a calf. Both of the boys are quite skilled and have even learned how to pull a calf coming backward. I remember a time when Mike and I weren’t brave enough to pull a backward calf, but the boys have watched and learned well how to handle the situation and when it’s more than they can handle.
So, that’s what we do to prepare for all the babies that will arrive here over the next couple of months. It’s a cold and blustery night out there tonight and I’m hoping none of them choose to make their debut tonight. It’d be a good night for Chris’s plan to work well.