Before cows start calving this spring, check that aids and equipment are in working order, or if they need replaced and replenished. Outlined are some basic items to include in every calving kit.

1 Iodine, calving gloves and lubricant

Stock up on iodine for treating a newborn calf’s naval. A dip cup for putting iodine on a naval is a much better option that a spray product.

Gloves for handling cows at calving are also essential. Stock up on arm length and latex hand gloves.

A proper obstetric lubricant is a must to aid the delivery of a calf. Do not attempt to use soap products, as they dry out and are irritants.

2 Calving ropes and working jack

Make sure the ratchet on the jack is working properly. It should not slip under tension. The headframe should also pivot freely.

Calving ropes should be soft and clean. If they are in any way hard or frayed, discard them, as they will be abrasive on the calf’s legs and the inside of the cow.

Choose red and blue ropes. They are easier to spot if dropped in straw. The red rope always goes to the calf’s right leg and blue to the left leg, so there is less chance of them being attached to the wrong side of the jack.

3 New stomach tube

If there are any scuffs or knicks in the stomach tube, discard it. Do not at any stage insert a scuffed tube down a calf’s throat.

The tube must be sterile. If it has been lying in a shed since last spring, bin it. A newborn calf has no natural immunity.

Placing a dirty, non-sterile tube in a newborn calf’s stomach will transfer bacteria directly to the animal’s gut before it has had a chance to absorb antibodies in colostrum.

Ideally, keep two stomach tubes on-farm. Label one for using on healthy calves only. Keep the second tube for treating sick calves only.

This way, there is less chance of transferring bacteria from a sick calf to a healthy newborn.

4 Pain relief, milk fever prevention and life-aids

During a hard labour, the cow may experience internal bleeding or some form of rupture. Pain relief will be necessary, as will an anti-inflammatory.

An antibiotic may also be recommended in some instances, or possibly in the event of a cow holding the placenta after calving.

Have a bottle of magnesium in store in the case of a downer cow with milk fever, along with the appropriate size needles and flutter valve.

After a hard pull, the calf will also be in pain. Check with your vet about pain relief and ensure there are appropriate gauge needles available for calves.

Life aids, vitamin boosts and colostrum may be required to help get the calf on its feet, so stock up as necessary.

5 Heat bulbs and calf jackets

In the case of a sick or weak calf, providing a heat source will help regulate core body temperature and stop the animal burning fat.

A heat bulb is a useful tool, but can be awkward to set up where the cow and calf are in the same pen. A calf jacket does a similar job and greatly increases the calf’s core body temperature.

Read more

Beef Trends: finished cattle supplies remain tight

Beef Management: have you got a plan for 2023 fertiliser?