Calving is a pretty stressful time of year. Not only can it impact your health, but a difficult calving season can really impact your livestock and their productivity. An optimal calving means an optimal business for you.
Mee et al (2019), along with other studies, suggest that 90% of calves that are dead at birth were alive at the start of calving. This means that with planning and intervention, it is possible to assuage the numbers of losses that you suffer. It can also mean you are protecting your cows so they can go on and be good performers in following years too.
We have gathered our tops tips here:
1. Have a plan:
Have a plan and communicate it to people working with you during the calving season.
2. Quick is key:
Deal with any problems or potential problems as quickly as possible: it can be the difference between survival for the cow and calf and a loss.
3. Safety is paramount:
Consider possible scenarios (a cow becoming aggressive during calving or when protecting her calf) and plan and agree how to manage safety. It might seem obvious, but it can be one of the first things to go out of the window when you are busy and tired.
- Have an escape route planned, whether in a shed or a field
- Don’t handle cows in labour or post-partum cows alone and make sure someone knows where you are.
Consider a scour vaccination pre-calving to boost antibodies
5. Calving pen preparation:
- Get your pens ready beforehand. Even if you calving outdoors, have some pens for any cows you need to bring in
- Disinfect the pens before the start of calving, it can help maintain hygiene throughout the season
- If you are using straw to bed the pens, make sure it is low dust so not to be an irritant to calves
- Replenish soiled straw regularly so have a store close at hand to avoid getting the tractor or telehandler out
- Ideally allow cows time to settle in their pen prior to calving – although that is easier said than done!
You might want to install cameras to help you easily keep an eye on cows in labour. Cameras that work on 4G or WiFi are fairly cheap, providing you have electricity and coverage. We also love Moocall’s technology. This could be a good investment if you have a drawn-out calving season so you can reuse the calving sensors easily.
7. Test equipment:
Test equipment such as the calving jack and pen gates ahead of time.
Hygiene is so important and often forgotten when calving is in full swing.
- Consider clipping the cow in the tail, udder and underbelly area to make it easier to keep clean
- Personal hygiene: wash your hands regularly and remove calving clothing before taking it into the house. It will help you and others stay healthy.
- Have hot water and soap available. If you calve outdoors, make sure you can easily and quickly access soap and hot water.
- Use a separate tube for sick calves to those that are healthier and still need help to feed
- Ensure you have colostrum for calves that are struggling to feed. Fresh colostrum is always better than powdered. If you are not able to get it fresh, have some frozen. Calves need colostrum within the first two, maximum-three hours after birth.
- Use a colostrum refractometer to test the immunoglobulin level: the difference of colostrum quality can really affect a calf’s outlook. Aim for a IgG level of 50mg/ml – so around 22% on the optical refractometer scale.
- If you are defrosting colostrum, make sure you keep it under 50C so it defrosts slowly. Too hot a temperature can kill the antibodies.
10. Calving box:
Have an easy to reach and easy to replenish calving container that you can either fix close to the pens or have ready to go on the quad-bike. See below for ideas on what to include.
Whilst a lot of things here may seem obvious, it is always helpful to have a list and ensure supplies are available and, most importantly replenished as they are used or at the end of each day. This is especially important if you are using contracted staff, who may not know your operation that well.
- Long-sleeved gloves
- Heat lamp or calf jacket: calves are really vulnerable to hypothermia and those that had difficulty calving are more at risk of not controlling their temperature.
- Headtorch that is charged or has spare batteries (they always give up at the wrong time)
- Feeding tubes
- Calving ropes
- Iodine or chlorhexidine for the navel
- Scour treatment
- Ear tagging equipment
- A phone charger or charging-bank and cable – providing you get signal, it can be handy to ensure you can easily call for back-up or veterinary assistance
- A thermos of hot tea (it might be a long-cold night…)
Why collect data during calving time?
Collecting data can seem like a hassle when you are so busy, but long-term it is really beneficial and can help with welfare and productivity and so profitability. It also means you are sure of key information, such as dates and times, observations, etc. that you can easily share with a vet or advisor.
Here are some metrics that are helpful to track:
- Any cow or calf (birth to weaning) mortality – it is good to record your losses and why (if you know). It can help prevent similar problems in the future or highlight issues that may need to be resolved.
- Age at first calving: a reduced age at calving means a reduced cost of production
- Which cows calved in the first six weeks? These cows demonstrate good fertility, weaning time is tighter and mean the route to market is easier
- Daily Live Weight Gain (DLWG) of calves to weaning.
Top tips on using AgriWebb at Calving.
- AgriWebb has a range of tools to help make things easier at calving time.
- Make the app available to any staff you have on-site. You can manage the ‘roles’ of any temporary staff in the account section, so nobody can accidentally move livestock off-farm.
- Give any new staff the chance to get used to the software, by showing them simple tasks, such as moving livestock, feed records or observations.
- Use the farm map to help with orientation of any new or temporary staff and so they have a handy, searchable guide to field names and where key structures, such as pens are located.
- Use the task function to assign tasks and check when these are done.
- Add birth (or mortality) records as you go where possible, or if you have written them down in a rush, transfer the information at the end of the day. It is so easy to forget and get inundated with new births otherwise.
- Add observations to records. Did the cow require an intervention to help her calve? Or did you need to use a jack? Did the offspring stand quickly on their own and suck without a problem or need tube feeding? All these types of data can be helpful to understanding the productivity of your livestock.
Need more help using AgriWebb during calving?
Talk to one of our customer success team here.
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