Vet’s Voice by Dave Barz: Fall management of the cow herd

We hope your grain harvest is progressing rapidly. We had enough frost to kick the tomatoes, but the flies are still surviving. Hopefully most of you have weaned your calves and have them gaining nicely for future sales. It’s hard to believe, but now is the time to begin preparing your cows for calving.

It’s hard for a lot of us old-timers to grasp the concept that the whole life of the calf is affected by management during gestation. We have always believed that if we can get a live calf, we can do the rest. With genetic testing and careful planning we are able to determine gains, feed efficiency, grading, etc. To make these predictions a reality, we need good management from conception to delivery.


During gestation both the cow and the gestating calf receive constant challenges from various pathogens. By vaccinating your herd you not only raise your mama cow’s immunity to fight off these diseases and protect the gestating cow from disease organisms circulating through your herd, but you also decrease the exposure to these disease organisms because there are no sick or carrier animals shedding organisms to other cattle. We prefer a live virus vaccination at pre-breeding, but if animals are exposed to other outside sources, (purchases, strays, etc.) we recommend a booster vaccination at preg-check to stimulate immunity of the herd.

In our area, we concentrate our calves into small calving areas which increases our chances of scours. It has been very beneficial for us to utilize scour vaccines to minimize our problems. The earlier vaccines required them to be given shortly before calving and every 30 days until calving was complete. More recent vaccine releases have modern carriers which allows them to be administered several months before calving. We routinely recommend vaccines be given at preg-check time and boostered pre-calving.


Last year we all learned how expensive it is to maintain a cow through winter. We all understand our cows need to be between a BCS of 5-6 at calving. When we early wean our calves we allow the cow to utilize all her intakes to improve BCS and help the gestating calf develop. This assures normal calf development without the drain of lactation on the cow. We will be able to utilize corn stalks, and winter pasture to adequately maintain our herds.

Vitamins and mineral supplementation are a must. The developing calf needs adequate micro-nutrients to perform growth and normal body functions. Many purchase tubs to utilize for supplemental feed, others feed range cake every few days to meet their cows’ needs. Many of my clients use bunks and silage for their cows. These cows usually get too much energy and may get over conditioned. Have your feedstuffs tested and formulate different rations for extreme changes in weather conditions to assure your cows get what they need, consistently.

Water is also very important, not only does the gestating cow and calf need water for normal bodily function, but water intake improves the rumen’s fermentation. The fermentation produces heat which helps the cow maintain body temperatures.

Management Choices

Now is the time to examine calving areas and decide what changes need to be made. Many producers are adopting the “Sandhill’s Calving Pattern.” It requires moving gestating animals to clean ground and works well. Look over your situation and decide what will help your operation. Rumensin fed as a feed additive will not only help your feed conversion, but will also help decrease coccidia shedding from your cows. Deworming is also important in improving feed conversion in your herd. Fecal exams can quantify your past deworming programs and enable you to plan this year to maximize results.

As you well understand preg-checking time is more than a time to eliminate non-productive animals from your herd, but also a time to consult with your veterinarian about your operation, “what’s right, what’s wrong, and what can we improve.” Preg-checking will allow you to understand the efficiency of your reproductive programs. Also with one pass through the chute you will be able to adequately identify, vaccinate, deworm and body condition score your herd. Keep a functional set of records for your future use. Let your veterinarian be more than just an “extra hand” at preg-check time.