Vet’s Voice by Dave Barz: Tips for Calving Season
April 1, 2013
If your cows are in poor body condition – body conditions less than 5 – it is probably too late to do a lot. Do your best to feed adequate nutrition to your cows to increase the cow's strength and body reserves. As the thin cow moves close to calving, nutrients will be decreased to the developing calf and colostrum production. To the cow, maintaining her own life is more important than the calf and milk production. Many of these weak cows will have dystocia (problems calving). Be sure and monitor the calving process closely. If the cow is not progressing every hour do not be afraid to assist and avoid calf death in a prolonged delivery.
Once the calf is delivered you need to pay very close attention to it. Hopefully the calf will be up and sucking within the first hour after birth. If the calf is weak and unable to suckle, you must provide it with adequate colostrum. A calf needs 2 quarts of colostrum within the first 6 hours of life and 4 quarts by 12 hours of age. You can utilize either hand milked colostrum or colostral replacers.
Many times the weak calf has a body temperature which is below normal. If the calf's temperature 94°-100° it is experiencing mild to moderate hypothermia. Usually feeding warm colostrum or milk will stimulate the calf while raising its body temperature. Also place the calf in a barn or warming box to minimize body heat lost to the environment. Avoid trying to warm the calf to rapidly. We have had clients actually over heat calves by placing them too close to a Knipco heater.
When the calf's temperature is below 94°, it may take hours to warm the animal. First you must drench warm fluids or milk. We have seen calves with temperatures as low as 75°. We place the animals in a draft free room which is about 105°. Usually we place an intravenous catheter to administer warm fluids. Next we apply warm water externally. Many producers will soak the calf in a bath tub of warm (105°-108°) water. If the calf has lost temperature shortly after birth, we are able to save a large percentage of them, but if they are several days to a week old, we are not as successful. This is probably a result of other problems decreasing body temperature.
Shelter is important. You need to keep the calves clean and dry. It isn't important to house the cows, because over time it turns into a mud and manure pool. Calf hutches and calf shelters need to be bedded. Usually all you will need to do is add more bedding assuring a dry spot for the calves during inclement weather. A good calf hutch houses about 15 calves.
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This spring we have seen a lot of calves which are reluctant to suck. Many of these have muscle and leg problems which don't allow them to stand. When we post other calves we find heart and circulatory problems. Be sure to have adequate high-quality vitamins and minerals available at all times to the cow.