Preparing Suckler Cows for Calving


Claerwen has written a summary of some important points to be taken into account when preparing suckler cows for calving:


  1. BCS: the appropriate Body Condition Score for late pregnancy is BCS2-3 (3 for autumn calving and 2.5 for spring calvers). Having cows above 3 is unnecessary, wasteful and can lead to a greater incidence of calving difficulty. Lower than BCS 2.0 results in weaker cows (e.g. downer due to milk fever, phosphorous deficiency), poorer quality colostrum and much slower rebreeding. The indirect effects on the calf due to over or under feeding the cow are numerous. Detailed transition ration planning is essential. Try to frequently BCS score your herd and make changes early – ideally several months prior to calving.
  2. Vaccines: yearly administration of vaccines for diseases such as Lepto, BVD, Clostridia, and also administration of anti-scour vaccines (rotavirus, corona virus and E.coli and/or salmonella) before calving provides additional protection via the colostrum for the calf. ​Scour vaccines provide added protection to good husbandry and are not a guaranteed prevention for calf scours.  Cryptosporidium has become a common cause of calf scour but there is no vaccine to combat it. Where Cryptosporidium has been identified then disinfection and feeding adequate high quality colostrum in the first 6hrs of life will reduce its severity, and Halocur will treat it. We have a rapid scour check kit which checks for rotavirus, coronavirus, E.coli and Cryptosporidium. This gives you an instant result if you have got young calves with scour.
  3. Parasites: fluke and lice are the most troublesome parasite of mature suckler cows. Well fed, healthy cows should have a strong immunity to worms.
  4. Minerals: some farms need to supplement with mineral (copper iodine, selenium) and vitamin E, but remember we can test for these deficiencies and poor performance is more commonly caused by inadequate energy / protein, so don’t just buy, test first. We can blood sample cows 2 – 3 weeks prior to calving to check both mineral status and that the energy and protein needs of the cow are being met.
  5. Equipment: staff availability and facilities need to be planned.
  6. Supplies: supplies which may be required after calving might include doxapram to stimulate breathing in new-borns, navel treatment to prevent navel infections, antibiotic injection, sterile needles and syringes, ear tags, electrolytes, colostrum and milk substitutes and clean tube feeders.
  7. Be ready for complications: Calcium and phosphorus injections for recumbent cows and a mechanical method of lifting recumbent cows should always be immediately available. Large farms should have a welfare friendly cow lifter available on their own farm – if it needs to be borrowed or hired there will always be a temptation to “give her another day” to see if she’ll get up herself. That delay can be the difference between a full recovery and a phone call to the knacker man.
  8. Feeding the calf colostrum: 6 pints in first 6 hours or 8-10% BW is essential and considered the single most important factor for calf health and immunity. The calf can only absorb colostral antibodies in the first 12-24hrs of life, so if the cow isn’t able to deliver enough you need to have a planned alternative. Colostrum from the first milking of other cows in the herd (fresh or frozen). Most powdered colostrum is of dubious quality. If you are considering using a supplement, speak to your vet first for advice on the best one to use.  Colostrum from other farms may pose a health risk (e.g. Johnes. Mycoplasma, coliforms, salmonella etc.). Be very cautious about its use. A colostometer can be used to measure the quality of colostrum.
  9. Post calving: put the cow on a rising plane of nutrition for milk production and early return to service. Aim for a calving interval of 365 d and a calving period of 9-12 weeks to maximise efficiency – if these are longer than you would like consult your vet. 
Vets Max and Jon are holding a PRACTICAL CALVING WORKSHOP on 6th March, with a second workshop on 23rd August.
Covering calving techniques and problems that may arise during calving
Call the farm office on 01491 651479 to find out more.