On suckler farms operating an autumn-calving herd, cows usually start to calve down from August onwards.
While it is less popular than spring calving, there are plenty of advantages to autumn calving, such as having strong weanlings/yearlings to sell during summer and early autumn.
But equally, there are drawbacks, the most notable being the increased expense with winter feeding and keeping mastitis at bay.
As the onset of autumn calving is little over a month away, outlined are 10 tips to prepare cows during a key management period.
Feeding pre-calving minerals before the start of calving is money well spent. Cows will get minerals through grazed forage, but the level of supplementation varies depending on soil type.
Therefore, proper supplementation with a pre-calving mineral will cut down issues such as a retained placenta and calves that are slow to stand and feed.
Autumn cows should be fit at calving time, as they have been grazing over summer. However, cows can still be prone to calving problems.
Control grazing intakes to stop cows gaining excessive body condition in the runup to calving. This will also manage the size and birth weight of calves.
Strip graze dry cows to manage intakes. Alternatively, graze dry cows on rougher, older pastures or run these animals after higher priority cattle to clean out paddocks.
Keeping mastitis at bay in autumn-calving cows is a huge challenge and one that puts many farmers off calving at this time of year.
While there are various aids and preventatives on the market, most farmers find that a combination of these factors give the best results.
Fly activity is higher during the summer, increasing the risk of dry cows and in-calf heifers losing quarters because of mastitis.
Most farmers will use a pour-on to deter flies. However, one application will not be enough. Regular applications are required and it is good practice to spray the udder with the pour-on also.
If handling pens are not available, feeding a small quantity of meal, or pre-calving minerals, in a trough will bring cows together, making it easier to apply a pour-on on cows’ backs.
Grazing stronger, stemmy grass will tighten the cow’s dung. When combined with clipping tails, this keeps cows cleaner around hindquarters and attracts fewer flies.
Products such as garlic licks do reduce fly activity on cows, as do fly tags, with many farmers having had great success with this option.
Finally, avoid grazing dry cows near wooded areas or dormant water, as these are a haven for flies.
There will always be one or two cows that calve before their predicted scanning date. So, where cows are grazing out-farms, bring animals back to the main yard for closer observation over the next few weeks.
This allows cows to settle in their new environment. Moving too close to calving can delay the onset of labour.
Autumn cows suit calving outside in August and September and they usually require less intervention as they are fit.
If weather conditions are favourable and paddocks are available beside the yard, allow cows to calve outside where possible in early autumn. This cuts out feeding silage daily and bedding pens.
However, if cows or heifers are calving to a new stock bull or an untested AI sire, calving indoors may provide greater comfort in case animals need assistance.
During poor weather, indoor calving is more practical. Alternatively, allow cows out to grass by day and house overnight as a compromise.
If cows are calving outside, paddocks need good access to a shed or laneway for when they have to come in for assistance.
Feeding minerals daily will familiarise cows with handling, making it easier to bring cows in to calving pens.
Stock up on calving aids in July in case cows calve earlier than expected. Purchase the essentials, such as gloves, lubricant and naval dips. Invest in new calving ropes if the old ones are frayed and opt for red and blue calving ropes.
Cows calving outside can have greater protective instincts. So, always keep safety in mind when intervening during calving or assisting a newly delivered calf to suck. The same goes with tagging and treating navals. Never turn your back on a freshly calved cow. If animals cannot be penned, offer the cow some meal as a distraction before working with a calf.
Keep freshly calved cows close to the yard for a few days to make sure calves are suckling properly before rejoining the main herd. For cows with high milking potential, graze on bare covers for at least one week before moving to better grazing.
Putting these cows on to lush grass within a few days of calving will result in a flush of milk that the calf will struggle to utilise. This makes cows more prone to mastitis.
Where possible, keep the regrowth on silage fields or paddocks that had surplus grass baled for freshly calved autumn cows. The regrowth will be high-quality grass, which will drive dry matter energy intakes post-calving, boosting milk and fertility.
The downside of grazing lush grass is that tetany becomes a bigger risk, especially during variable weather with cold nights and mild days. To reduce this risk, avoid spreading slurry or high-potash fertiliser on fields where freshly calved cows will graze and supplement cows with magnesium.