Calving season with snow on the ground
March 9, 2010
A few weeks ago, the Ground Hog saw his shadow and as we all know, that means six more weeks of winter. My response has been to hope that winter ends at six weeks and doesn’t last longer. We have snow cover over most of the Tri-State Livestock News reader area, with really deep snow on a large proportion. Weather forecasts suggest continued colder and wetter than normal conditions into the spring. This makes it likely that many producers will be calving on snow.
This makes adequate preparation for calving extra important. Some readers that have already started calving can use the following as a check list to be sure nothing has been forgotten. Those with the start of calving in the future can consider it in the process of making plans.
Calving on a snow-covered pasture isn’t much of an issue, except, of course, during bad storms. Thus, an important consideration is going to be provision of shelter for the cattle, especially newborn calves. Providing sheds or wind breaks will let cattle get out of the weather. A potential disadvantage when cows are calving during a blizzard is that cattle are crowded together when they gather in the sheltered area. This increases the chance that a calf could get stepped on. It also increases the chance that disease pathogens could spread through the herd. It can even lead to problems with cows claiming the wrong calf.
A valuable asset to keep calves out of these problems is to provide shelters that the calves can get into but the cows cannot. Thus, calves have a place to go that is out of the weather, but they can’t get stepped on. This could be a fenced portion of the cattle shed that has a creep gate that calves can pass through but cows cannot. A better option would be small, portable calf shelters that can be moved and re-bedded frequently to minimize build up of pathogens. These shelters for calves need to be placed near where the cows will be during bad weather so newborns will use them.
Generally, newborn calves will do well in snowy conditions. Cold weather means there may be some frozen ears. It also means that pathogen survival and spread for most cattle diseases will be limited. However, diseases issues can arise in calves that are several weeks old once it finally warms up, because warmer, muddy conditions can promote pathogen growth and spread. Calves will be especially susceptible with large daily temperature swings (warm days and cold nights). This is a common scenario for outbreaks of calf scours.
Cow nutrition also plays an important role in calf vigor and healthiness. Adequate cow nutrition in late pregnancy provides better fetal nutrition, which will contribute to newborn calves with more vigor so that they stand and suckle sooner. In particular, inadequate protein nutrition for the cow will contribute to weak calves. Additionally, cows with adequate nutrition will produce better colostrum, and vigorous calves will suckle sooner and consume more colostrum. Quality of colostrum declines rapidly (within hours of parturition) and ability of the calves’ gut to absorb immunoglobulins from the colostrum also declines rapidly, so suckling as soon as possible after birth is tremendously important. The passive immunity that calves gain from colostrum is tremendously important to their ability to withstand early calfhood diseases such as pathogenic scours.
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Another management practice that helps to prevent pathogen introduction into newborns is treatment of the naval with iodine immediately after birth, especially if calving is occurring in a congested calving area.
Other preparations for calving include preparing facilities and equipment. Make sure the calving barn/obstetric facilities are in good repair and ready to go. The calf puller, chains and so forth should be cleaned and disinfected so they are ready to go. The disinfectant supply should be replenished, and health products to treat sick calves should be checked to be sure supplies are adequate and that expiration dates haven’t passed.
Looking ahead, calfhood vaccinations will be upon us a couple of months after birth, so consider ordering vaccines so they are on hand when needed.
Calving season is an exciting time. It can be the best time of year, assuming challenges from blizzards aren’t too severe. Being ready to go and observant during calving will play a role in enjoying the arrival of the new calf crop and minimizing the impact of the challenges.