‘The beginning is everything’: Top tips to prepare for a smoother calving season
Preparation is key, so before it gets busy with new-born calves on the farm, now is a good time to start preparations for the peak calving period and plan for a smoother calving season.
Preparing for calving
Below is a basic calving checklist:
- Calving pens: Ensure they are clean and disinfected; one roomy calving pen (minimum 16.8m²) per 10 cows, with good lighting;
- The calving gate is securely fitted;
- The calving jack is in good working order;
- There are two sets of clean calving ropes;
- Ensure you have lubricant, arm length gloves and latex gloves;
- There is access to warm water, buckets and disinfectant;
- There are two stomach tubes (one for colostrum feeding and one for sick calves), feeding bottle and iodine navel dip;
- Ensure there are electrolytes, a thermometer, a calf jacket or infra-red lamp;
- Check the calving cameras and calving sensors are in working order;
- A white board to record important cow and calf health information.
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Calving – Management of a stressful birth
Calving is a high risk time for both cow and calf. To minimise physical trauma as a result of a difficult calving, the following should be taken into consideration:
- A clean calving environment plays an important role in reducing losses due to calf scour and navel ill;
- Supervise the cow when calving; intervene only if she is not progressing normally;
- If the calf is not born two hours after the water bag or the calf’s hooves appear, examine the birth canal and calf with a gloved hand;
- If you’re not sure you can get the calf out alive, call the vet early to avoid injuries to the calf and cow;
- Be careful not to pull the jack downwards too acutely before the calf’s chest comes out when assisting the calving, as this can cause fractured ribs;
- Protect your new arrivals by ensuring good hygiene and disinfection procedures. Read more about ‘How to control coccidiosis and cryptosporidiosis in the calf’s environment’ online.
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Post-calving – caring for the calf
A number of health issues in the days and weeks after calving can have a costly impact on productivity. Several immediate actions that can be taken to help alleviate and prevent health issues include:
- Immediately after calving, cows must have access to clean drinking water and the lactating cow diet to maximise dry matter intake (DMI) and energy input;
- Allow adequate feeding space to avoid competition between cows;
- Be vigilant with cows to identify and react to issues such as milk fever, retained placenta and ketosis. Always consult your vet before taking further action;
- Read more about the causes and prevention of milk fever online.
Feeding milk replacer
It is important to feed a calf milk replacer that is high in quality and that promotes growth.
Calf milk replacers that have high levels of vegetable protein should be avoided, as they are not digestible by young calves. Calves should receive 6L of milk per day split into two feeds.
Feeding calf milk replacer starts within the first week of life and continues until the calf is at least two months-of-age.
The key specifications of a high-quality milk replacer are below:
- Protein content 23-26%;
- Fat content 16-20%;
- Ash content <8.5%;
- Fiber content <0.15%.
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Caring for the cow post calving
A lot is expected from our dairy cows after calving. The transition from being a dry cow to a milk producing, lactating cow can have some obstacles along the way.
Most cows in Ireland end up in negative energy balance. We need to be aware of the conditions that may hamper our cows after calving, such as fatty liver, ketosis, displaced abomasum, milk fever and retained placenta to name a few.
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