4 Tips For Preparing For Livestock Birthing Season

With spring fast approaching, it's time to get your herd ready for spring babies. Keep these handy tips in mind during birthing season.

by Anna O'Brien
PHOTO: Coatesy/Shuttersock

After these dark and dreary winter months, it’s nice to sense a bit of spring in the air. Although depending on your location, you may not be feeling a rise in temperature yet, your animals are noticing the lengthening daylight.

This means coats are shedding and some animals are starting up their reproductive cycles. Spring is also, of course, a busy time for babies on the farm: calvings, kiddings, lambings and foalings all increase this time of year.

Here are a few tips for caring for your expecting animals this birthing season.

1. Nutrition

Soon-to-be-mothers of all species are eating for at least two, if not three or four (or twelve-ish, if we’re talking pigs!).

At the end of the third trimester, the fetus(es) undergo a surge of growth. This places a huge nutritional demand on the mother. Making sure she is eating high quality and high quantity forage is probably the best thing you can do for her health and the initial health of her offspring.

If you have sheep or goats, an ultrasound conducted by your veterinarian can determine how many lambs or kids the ewe or doe is carrying. If you have a flock, it’s good practice to separate the mothers that are carrying singles from those carrying twins/triplets and feed accordingly. This ensures that no one gets overfed or underfed.

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Mares typically carry a single foal, and lots of time on good pasture is best. However, knowing what type of grass grows in your pasture is of paramount importance when it comes to pregnant mares.

Tall fescue grass is endemically infected with a fungus that causes pregnant mares to have a thickened placenta, difficult labor, weak and dysmature foals, and sometimes little to no milk production. This grass has the same negative impacts on milk production in cattle, too.

For prevention, owners should either remove pregnant mares from fescue pastures or treat with a drug called domperidone, which has been demonstrated to counteract fescue toxicosis.

Learn what you can do to protect your pregnant livestock animals from toxic fescue.

2. Supplies

The beginning of birthing season is a good time to re-assess your first aid kit for specific items that may come in handy during delivery.

The obstetrical basics for any species, and a good start for you, are as follows:

  • Latex gloves
  • Clean towels
  • A halter
  • Plenty of lubricant

For cattle, depending on your experience and size of your herd, calf chains and/or a calf jack can make more difficult calvings far easier. However, your veterinarian will also have these tools on hand if you don’t feel the need to make the investment.

Bailing twine is a ubiquitous item on any farm that can be easily used for traction when delivering smaller animals such as lambs, kids and crias.

3. Reduce Stress

Late gestation is not the time to conduct routine processing in your animals.

This means no new ear tags or tattoos, no extensive traveling, no reshuffling members of the herd/pecking order or other heavy handling.

When moving animals, particularly if you have a herd that is skittish, move slowly and calmly. If you need to catch an animal for a vet check or other reason, plan ahead and take your time.

4. Monitor closely

As you approach the expected delivery date, bring the animals either close to the barn or inside, depending on your facilities. Monitor them at least twice a day if not more frequently, depending on the animal numbers.

Deliveries typically go as planned, so focus on being excited instead of worried, especially if you’re new to birthing season.

However, vigilance is key. The closer you’re watching, the sooner you can note if things don’t seem to be going as planned. If you have doubts or think something’s amiss, don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian.

Don’t worry: you’ve got this.

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