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How to Prepare for a Successful Calving Season

January 29, 2019

Let’s face it, the calving season can be a difficult and stressful time for all. Planning, organizing, preparing are all key skills needed to have a successful calving season. Being proactive in your approach will reduce calf mortality, increase productivity and cut down on stress in both farmer and animal. Here are some of our top key tips to prepare for the season ahead.

1) Preparation
Ensure all equipment & facilities are clean and in working order. Calving pens need to be well sanitized with disinfectant to reduce the risk of disease. They also need to be well bedded and have a sufficient amount of clean water.

2) Keep an eye out
This may seem obvious, but physically keeping an eye on a large herd of cows can prove extremely challenging. Calving cameras can help prevent many unnecessary trips to your calving pens and be linked to your smartphone. This can alleviate all worry and give you peace of mind when you leave the farm. Moocall calving sensors are another great way to make calving that little bit easier. The sensors are non-invasive tail mounted sensors which can accurately predict when your cow is most likely to give birth by measuring tail movement patterns triggered by labour contractions. The sensor will pick up when the cow reaches a sustained high level of intensity and automatically send a text message directly to your mobile phone and one other nominated phone (to ensure calving is not missed) roughly one hour prior to calving.

3) Aids & assistance
While we all wish for a successful and smooth-running calving season, many farmers will experience some birthing difficulties along the way. Therefore, it is so important to prepare for the worst possible birthing scenarios. Calving ropes can be used multiple times through the season and are made from soft woven nylon which is gentle on calves’ legs. A good quality calving jack is vital on all farms. Calving aid jacks have the pulling power of up to six people and should only be used if a cow or heifer is in difficulty whilst calving.

4) Essential items
There are many items you can never have enough of during calving.

Arm length gloves: are very important every farmer should wear them when assisting a cow during calving for personal hygiene reasons and to reduce the risk of diseases and infections spreading.

Lubricants: Some farmers resort to washing up liquid as a lubricant during a calving however, this can cause inflammation in the birth canal and can affect cow fertility later in life. Invest in proper lubricants as they will last longer, are less likely to dry out during the calving and are kinder to the animal.

Iodine: Iodine needs to be at hand to treat a calf’s navel after birth and reduce the risk of infection.

Hot water: A kettle close to the calving pen is a very useful piece of equipment, something many people would forget. Having easy access to boiling water is useful: for sterilizing tools, cleaning ropes, defrosting colostrum and warm water for washing your hands.

5) Give your calf the best start

After the calf is born, you should first check to see if the calf is breathing properly. If you notice a calf is not breathing, clear its nose and mouth of mucous or other obstructions. Rub the calf’s back to stimulate breathing and poke inside the nostrils to initiate a sneeze reflex. The first few days of a calf’s life are essential to the development of its immune system and growth.

Colostrum; is the biggest boost a calf can get in early life. Plenty of good quality colostrum in the first 6 hours of life is essential to the health and development of a calf. With the nature of calving it is not always possible to milk the cow or to get the calf to suck enough colostrum; this is where it is useful to have another form of colostrum. Fresh is always best, but Volac Calf Volostrum is a great alternative and is handy to pour into a bottle/stomach tube.

Calf coat; during wet and cold weather a calf’s body temperature will drop, this can be very dangerous during its early days making the calf more susceptible to disease and infection. Calf coats can help reduce the risk of illness by keeping the calf warm.

Michael Dilworth, dairy farmer, from Ballycraheen, Donaghmore said “I started using calf coats in 2018 due to using large calving pens to house new born calf’s. We put the coats on at birth and left them on for the first 2/3 weeks to help these calf’s to be comfortable and retain heat and get the best possible start. I believe my calves thrived from wearing the calf coats and I saw a reduction in sickness from previous years”.

Calf coats

Michael Dilworth’s calves showcasing their coats in Donaghmore, Co.Cork.

Trusti Tuber Calf Feeding Starter Kit; some calves may experience problems during their first number of feedings especially in weak or premature calves. The Trusti Tuber kit ensures tubing is safer and more comfortable for the calf. It is also much easier to use than traditional esophageal feeders.

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