More on Calving

Last week, Megan wrote about the Business of Calving.  I wanted to get into that in a little bit more detail to let you know what we do with the newborn calves and let you know why we do it that way.  Everybody has different processes that they go through based on what they think works better for them.  The main reasons for these activities are calf health and identification.  But first, I want to give a little update on the last week.

It turned from bitter cold and snow to warm temperatures reaching a high of about 50 degrees.  This warm weather brought its own problems, melting a bunch of the snow that had piled up and creating a muddy mess for the newborns to wade through.  I am not sure if it's the muck or just the stress of going from intense cold to warm (about an 80 degrees swing from the coldest to warmest in the past couple of weeks), but calves are getting sick with scours.  We are most of the way through the ranch's heifers and the cows are starting to calve.  Now, as I type this, the snow has come back with wind as well.  So to sum up this calving season over the past two weeks, I would say it has been rough.

A newborn calf takes in the world in todays snowstorm. 3/4/18

A newborn calf takes in the world in todays snowstorm. 3/4/18

Let's step back for a minute and talk about what a newborn calf needs.  First of all, a calf is capable of standing up and finding it's first drink of milk within the first hour of its life and should be up and moving within the first couple of hours.  It's important that a calf does this as soon as possible because the first couple feedings of colostrum are what transfers antibodies from the cow to the calf and thereby creates the new immune system.  They also need the warmth and energy that come with a full belly of milk.When it comes to our role in this, we mainly want to make sure everything is working properly for the first day and will worry about tagging and vaccinating them the next day, but if we wait too long, they are fast and hard to catch.  

Calves of heifers (first-time calving cows), don't have as much colostrum to pass to their calves so we give them a boost shortly after they are born.  For them, we give them a bolus and injection of mineral. The bolus that we give is called "First Defense" and is made by Immucell.  This bolus is used to deliver antibodies against E. coli, coronavirus, and rotavirus.  It is made 100% from bovine antibodies and is delivered orally.  The mineral injection is Multimin 90.  This is a small dose that is given, but it serves to provide trace minerals: zinc, manganese, copper, and selenium.  We do this to start them off with solid nutrition in the first days of life.

Another thing that we do with the calves our of first-calf heifers that we don't do with the calves out of older cows, is weigh them.  We use a scale to help us keep a record of how big and how easily they calve.  We want to make sure that the heifers have no problem calving because that can be bad for both the mother and the calf.

First calf heifers and their calves on the feed ground. 3/1/18

First calf heifers and their calves on the feed ground. 3/1/18

There are three other things that must be done to the calves before they are free to go and are usually done the day after they are born.  This is tagging, vaccinating, and banding for the bull calves.  These are done to all the calves, not just calves from heifers.  We tag them with an identification number that matches their mother and they are "ear notched" to help identify them as ours until they are branded.  The tag helps us make sure that the cow is taking care of its baby properly and if they ever get separated, they can be reunited.  In addition, if a calf needs to be treated for an illness, we can record the number and it will not be sold in the Verified Natural program.  The vaccination is a 7-way vaccine that helps to prevent disease.  The main purpose of this at this time is to prevent chlostridial infections which can manifest as scours.  Lastly, the bull calves are banded so that they will become steer calves and we won't have to worry about them trying to breed the heifer calves in the fall.  We band so that we don't have to "cut" them later.  There is less chance of infection and it seems to be fairly gentle on the calves though I cannot imagine it is too comfortable for them.

Whew, this seems like a lot when I type it all out like that!  Maybe that's because it really is a lot.  We try to give them the best start that we can, but things can still go poorly.  We try to be as preventative as possible and combine that with a healthy level of herd monitoring.  Unfortunately, we can't be there all the time and we can miss it when calves start to get sick.  Megan touched on it last week, but it is hard to explain the feeling of losing a calf when you have gone through all this and more to give them the best start possible.  In closing, I want to know what you think of it all.  Are you satisfied with my explanation of what we do?  Is this something you have ever wondered about or even wanted to learn?


by Brandon Greet