Calving season doesn’t have to be so busy

COMMENT: While some have already started, the majority of spring calving herds will commence calving sometime over the next three weeks.

Traditionally this is considered to be a very busy and often stressful period on dairy farms.

While the financial benefits of compact calving have long been established, some farmers fear that concentrating their calving season into a shorter period will increase workload and stress levels. Should this be the case though?

Many leading farmers in Ireland are demonstrating year after year that it is possible to calve large, and increasing, numbers of cows in a short period of time without putting themselves or the farm under excessive pressure.

However, a simplified and hopefully stress-free calving season doesn’t happen by magic. A lot of planning and preparation must take place during the lead-in period. Dry cows must be grouped and preferably marked according to calving date.

On our farm we mark the cows with different coloured tail tape as they are scanned in September. Green for February calving, yellow for March and blue for April. We can, therefore, very quickly group them appropriately as calving season approaches. In addition, a simple system for drafting springing cows into the calving group every two or three days will ensure no surprise calves in the cubicles

Feeding pre-calver minerals for the final six weeks of pregnancy and having cows in the correct body condition score minimises issues with calving difficulties, weak calves, retained cleanings and so on. While the likelihood of calving difficulty is often dictated by bull choice during the previous breeding season, my observation is that Jersey crossbred herds in particular seem to experience very little calving difficulty.

On my travels I see many farmers who now create one large calving area. The days of the individual calving box appear to be over.

This area must have a facility to isolate cow for examination if calving difficulties arise. A simple folding gate against a wall works well or have an individual pen with cow handling facilities set up next door.

In recent years there has been a swing towards outdoor calving on woodchip. One system that I have seen work very well consists of a large indoor straw-bedded shed where up to 30 cows can lie and feed at night, with a sheltered outdoor woodchip area alongside.

First thing in the morning, all the un-calved cows go outside to the wood-chip to calve, before returning indoor again, last thing in the evening at 6pm.

This system lends itself very well to night-feeding of cows, which helps to minimise calvings between 9pm and 6am, thus ensuring a full night’s sleep, most nights, for farmer and his staff.

Each calving area should have a secure box containing the calving essentials – iodine, examination gloves, lubricant, tags and tagger and so on.

It amazes me to see some farmers store these items in a different location in the farmyard, thus creating much unnecessary walking back and forth, not to mention time lost during a very busy period.

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