As we settle into the new year, some farmers are already thinking about the next crop of calves.
On suckler farms operating spring-calving herds, use the next couple of weeks to finalise preparations for the arrival of the 2022 calf crop.
Outlined are five things to tick off the to-do list before calving starts.
Pre-calving minerals should be offered to cows around six to eight weeks before the first calf is due to be born.
Silage is relatively low in trace elements and minerals, hence the need to supplement diets in the run-up to calving.
A good pre-calver mineral will reduce the incidence of lethargic calves that are slow to stand and suck their dam. Minerals will also reduce problems such as cows holding the placenta after calving.
On farms with a history of scour problems, vaccinating against it may be beneficial. However, a scour vaccine is not a substitute for poor hygiene in calving sheds.
But under the right management, vaccinating against scour will help reduce the number of calves affected by the disease this spring.
Vaccines need to be given well in advance of calving, so there is time for an adequate immune response to develop. These antibodies are then passed on to calves via colostrum.
There will always be one or two cows that calve down early and these animals can easily catch unprepared farmers out.
So take the time to make sure calving aids such as gloves, lubricant, iodine, disinfectant, colostrum alternatives and stomach tubes are stocked up.
Also, take the time to locate the calving jack and ropes. Keep calving aids and the jack close to the calving shed. If a cow calves early, these items will be easily located.
If calving ropes are hard and frayed, discard them and replace with a new set. The same goes with a stomach tube. If the tube is scuffed, replace it, as rough edges on the tubing will irritate the calf’s throat.
Make sure calving pens are washed out and allowed to dry before disinfecting them, especially if they have been used as a sick bay this winter.
Make sure calving gates are working properly and make alterations as necessary. Lighting is also important, so replace bulbs or install new lights if required.
Water provision is also overlooked in calving pens. Cows can drink 40 to 60 litres after calving, so installing a self-filling bowl is a good idea rather than offering buckets of water that usually end up spilled.
Cows that calve during the day normally get greater attention compared with those calving overnight.
Feeding fresh silage to cows in the evening can reduce the number of cows calving during the early hours of the morning.
Uneaten silage can then be pushed into animals the following morning. But no further silage should be offered until evening time again.
Having cows in a fasted state when fresh silage is offered again means cows are more likely to stand and feed. This can help to postpone the onset of labour late at night.