Autumn calving is getting under way on suckler farms over the next month, so herd owners should be taking steps to be prepared for the next calf crop. While dry cow minerals, moving cows to paddocks close to the yard and washing out calving pens may be top of the job list, make sure the calving kit has been restocked with some of the outlined items.

1. New calving ropes, gloves and lubricant

Hopefully, the majority of cows will calve unassisted, but when assistance is required to deliver a calf, make sure you have the right kit to hand.

Always wear a glove when putting your hand inside the cow to check on and correct calf presentation.

Also, always apply an obstetric lubricant when doing so. Stock up on hand and arm length gloves, plus lubricant now.

Invest in a new set of calving ropes to pull the calf, choosing a set with red and blue ropes rather than white ropes.

With red and blue ropes, the red rope goes on the right leg and blue on the left. This should stop ropes being incorrectly attached to the wrong side of the calving jack.

Discard calving ropes that have become hardened, soiled, frayed or perished. They will irritate the cow internally, damage the calf’s legs and they will also be unhygienic.

2. New stomach tube

Where a calf is born after a distressed labour, or is slow to stand and feed, tubing colostrum is important.

Remember that a newborn calf has no immunity until fed colostrum. If the calf has to get its first feed via a stomach tube, it should be sterile.

Placing a dirty tube in a newborn calf’s stomach transfers germs into its gut before colostrum has had time to be absorbed.

Make sure the medicine cupboard is fully stocked

Also, it is always good practice to have a second stomach tube, one for healthy newborn calves and one for sick animals. Never use a tube on healthy calf after treating a sick animal.

3. Colostrum and electrolytes

In the event of a calf born outside that needs help with feeding, trying to catch a temperamental, freshly calved cow to milk out can be dangerous.

It is much safer to have artificial or frozen colostrum in store. The same goes with electrolytes in the event of a calf with a touch of scour.

4. Medicine cabinet

Make sure the medicine cupboard is fully stocked. If a calf is born after a difficult labour, an anti-inflammatory can provide pain relief to the cow and calf. Just check with your vet about dosage rate for the calf.

Autumn-calving cows are prone to mastitis during the dry period, and in the first week or so at grass after calving should the newborn calf be unable to empty all four quarters.

Early treatment will reduce the risk of losing quarters.

5. Calcium, flutter valves and needle

Milk fever is more common in autumn-calving herds, particularly in the case of older cows with a high milking ability.

While grazing dry cows on rougher grass with a high fibre content and low calcium, high magnesium pre-calving can help reduce the risk. Keep a few bottles of calcium in store in the event of a cow going down with milk fever.

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