Spring calving is fast approaching for many suckler herds.

Before then, there are a few things that can be done to help prepare cows for calving.

These tasks won’t suit every farmer. But hopefully there will be one or two things that can be implemented and will help make things run more smoothly at calving time.

1. Feeding cows late in the evening

Feeding late in the evening can help to cut down on cows calving during the night and early hours of the morning.

Ideally, it works best when started around two weeks before the first calf is due. The later silage is offered in the evening, the better. But the timing has to fit in with your daily routine.

Offer cows enough silage to last until the afternoon of the following day. If the feed passage is empty before then, do not be tempted to offer fresh silage, even if cows are roaring.

Stick to a fixed feeding time each evening. As silage is cleaned up by the afternoon, cows will be hungry when it comes to the correct time for the next feed allocation.

As such, cows will be inclined to stand and eat to appetite, then lie and ruminate. This can help delay the onset of labour late at night, thereby pushing more cows to calve early the following morning.

It is not an exact science and some cows will still calve through the night. But most farmers who try this method find it does generally work.

2. Pre-calving minerals

Cows should be offered minerals in the run-up to calving. There are various forms of pre-calving minerals that can be fed.

They all have their own merits and drawbacks, so it depends what works best for your system.

Having cows batched according to calving dates means minerals can be targeted to those animals closest to calving, while holding off on feeding the later cows.

3. Feeding cows to appetite

Cows calving in February and March should now be in the ideal body condition. During the final trimester of pregnancy, the cow’s nutrition demand increases, as the majority of foetal calf development occurs in this period.

Therefore, do not restrict cow’s intake in the final month of pregnancy. The cow’s rumen capacity will be greatly reduced because of the size of the calf in the womb, so there is a low risk of animals becoming overfat on ad-lib forage so close to calving.

4. Clipping the cow’s tail

Where cows are one to two months off calving, it is perfectly understandable that farmers will not want to bring cows out of the shed for handling.

But on farms with a good handling unit beside the cow shed, clipping the cow’s tail prior to calving is beneficial.

However, only do so if cows can be easily moved to the crush and securely restrained. Cow temperament is another thing to consider with this option.

Leave flighty cows in the shed, as well as animals that are less than one month from calving.

Clipping the tail helps keep hindquarters and cows' udders clean. It is also more hygienic for the farmer, or vet on the occasions when cows need assistance during a hard calving.

5. Clipping around the udder

If the handling pen allows and it is safe for the cow and operator, consider clipping soiled hair from around the cow’s udder. This keeps the udder clean and helps the calf find the teat for the first time.

Often, as a newborn calf stands to suck for the first time, it usually latches to soiled hair as it looks for the teat, potentially picking up dirt and bacteria.

If the worst of this soiled hair can be removed, calf health will benefit.

It won't be every cow that needs doing and don’t go overboard on those that do - just run the clippers above the udder and top of the hind leg.

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