Garrett Ford

In many beef cattle operations, the month of February is the beginning of the calving season. In the United States, nearly 60 percent of beef calves are born in the months of February, March, and April, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2009. This means January is when cattle producers prepare for the spring calving season.

Facilities and calving equipment need to be evaluated. An inventory of supplies should be done. The calving protocol should be reviewed and updated if necessary. If a cattle producer does not have a protocol, one should be developed with the aid of their veterinarian.

Facilities are an important part of any cattle operation. Routine maintenance is required to keep the squeeze chute, alley ways, and gates in good working order. You do not want problems with facilities when you are trying to get a distressed heifer down the alley and into the chute. In addition to working facilities, barns and pens need to be clean and dry for newborn calves. Calves forced to live in moist fecal contaminated areas are more prone to complications from disease early on.

You need to have the proper obstetric equipment available to assist cows and heifers with difficult births, and you also need to know how to properly use it. Improper use can result in trauma to the calf and/or cow. Obstetric equipment is designed to ease the delivery of a calf during a difficult birth. Calf jacks or pullers, OB chains, OB handles, and head snares need to be clean, sterile, and in good working order. This equipment should be stored in a clean area that is easily accessible.

Part of being prepared means anticipating what supplies will be needed in birthing problems and having them on hand. Some form of a disinfectant will be needed to clean and sterilize OB chains, OB handles, and head snares. OB lube is important to lubricate the birth canal. OB sleeves will protect you from contact with germs or bacteria that may be in the birth canal and may protect the cow from being contaminated by you. Iodine will be needed for dipping the navel to aid in disease prevention. The most important supply to have on hand is a source of high-quality colostrum in case the cow or heifer runs off or is not producing enough colostrum. Colostrum is vital to the health and well-being of a newborn calf.

An often-overlooked item in the birthing toolbox is a well written treatment protocol. A treatment protocol will aid in deciding when to intervene in difficult births. You should develop the protocol before you are in the middle of a difficult birth so that you don't second guess yourself. Make sure that the protocol is easy to read and understand for all parties that may have to assist in the birthing process.

You should involve your veterinarian in the writing of this document. The veterinarian can help to advise when he or she should be contacted during a difficult birth. By including your veterinarian in writing the protocol, he or she will likely be more willing to help in an after-hour emergency.

Dystocia or calving troubles need to be dealt with in a timely manner. Delays in dealing with calving difficulties may increase death. In beef cattle operations in the U.S., calving problems account for around 25 percent of beef losses in calves less than three weeks of age, according to the USDA. Producers need to be prepared to deal with any problems that they might encounter. For more information about calving time management, contact your veterinarian or read OSU Fact Sheet E-1006, Calving Time Management for Beef Cows and Heifers.

Garrett Ford is agriculture educator for the OSU Cooperative Extension Service in Cherokee County.

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