Body Condition Scoring: One step to complete in preparing for calving season is evaluating your cows’ body condition scores and making corrections where necessary. It is important to assess them several weeks before calving, while you still have time to make changes. Cows that are either too skinny or too fat are more likely to have problems with calving than cows at ideal condition. According to BEEF Magazine, “BCS numbers range from 1 to 9; 1 is extremely thin and 9 very obese. A cow in ‘thin’ condition (BCS 1-4) is angular and bony with minimal fat over the backbone, ribs, hooks, and pins. There’s no visible fat around the tail head or brisket. A cow in ‘ideal’ condition (BCS 5-7) has visible hips, though there’s some fat over the hook and pins and the backbone is no longer visible.” A score of 5 to 7 is optimal. Body condition scoring will affect this year’s calf crop through optimizing the amount of calving difficulty, calf health and vigor, and calf performance up to weaning. It will also affect next year’s calf crop through earlier breedback and better pregnancy rates. For more information on body condition scoring, visit this website from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Body Condition Scoring Your Beef Cow Herd.
Scours Prevention: Pre-calving scours vaccinations can be very helpful in preventing disease in new calves. The primary vaccine that we carry is ScourGuard 4KC from Zoetis, although we can special-order other products if you prefer. ScourGuard 4KC should be administered twice, approximately 3 weeks apart, with the second dose given about a month before calving. Clean, dry facilities are also critical. Good facilities prevent buildup of harmful bacteria that cause disease and also reduce calves' exposure. Separating calves of different ages can also be helpful in preventing scours, because it keeps older calves from spreading disease agents to younger calves. This handout from Iowa State University is very informative on scours: Calf Scours: Causes and Treatment.
Monitoring the Calving Process: Parturition, or calving, is divided into three different stages. The first stage is basically preparation, and may be hard to identify in some cases. It consists of the cervix dilating and the water sac being expelled. This typically takes between two and six hours. Stage 1 must be complete before stage 2 can successfully begin. In stage 2, the calf enters the birth canal and, hopefully without assistance, is delivered. This stage should take no longer than half an hour to an hour. Stage 3 is expulsion of the afterbirth and can take up to 12 hours. Dystocia, or difficulty calving, is typically associated with stage two. There are many factors that can cause dystocia. This publication from Mississippi State University, Providing Assistance at Calving, recommends allowing about two hours after the water bag is expelled before assisting with delivery. Proper application of OB chains and being careful with the amount of force applied are both critical to the well-being of the calf and the cow. MSU recommends contacting a veterinarian in the following situations:
The person assisting delivery is unable to determine the position of the calf
The correct position cannot be attained
The calf is presenting in a posterior position
The calf is too large for the birth canal
Reasonable progress in the delivery is not made in a timely manner
A uterine prolapse occurs
Never hesitate to contact a veterinarian if you are uncomfortable with the situation presented.
Good luck with your calving season! It's our favorite time of year!
For at least the next few months, we will be distributing a quarterly newsletter rather than monthly. We are always open to suggestions and requests for content. Also, keep an eye out for an announcement on our new website being published! We are hoping to have it up and running within the next few weeks.