Whether it’s a chilly winter morning or a warm spring afternoon, nothing is more enjoyable than watching a pasture full of tiny, new calves wobbling through the grass towards mama. It’s often too easy to overlook such simple pleasures in life.
Cattle are amazing creatures, with their ability to withstand dropping from inside a 100 degree cow to a 40-degree dirt bed as a newborn. And nobody needs to tell the cow to start licking the mucus from her calf’s nose and face!
An uneventful calving is what every rancher hopes for. Yet there can be times when extra hand may need to intervene.
Gather Your Supplies
As calving season draws closer (whether fall or spring calving), having your supplies gathered up and ready to use will make an emergency situation run that much smoother.
If calving in an open pasture, you’ll hopefully have planned for it earlier that year. You left time for the pasture to sit empty, clearing parasites and disease from cattle that previously grazed there. By this point, you should see clumps of tall grass for the cows to bed down their calves in and use as a windbreak during calving.
Set up and repair your head gate (and other pens or buildings) so you can use it at a moment’s notice. Hang a halter and rope on a nail nearby in case you need to tie up a cow. Put a lariat rope in the truck in case a cow or calf needs caught (provided someone knows how to throw it!).
A calf puller will come in handy if a cow struggles to push the calf out of the birth canal. Consider intervention one of the last resorts, but keep the tool on hand and ready to use should the situation present itself.
If you find you will need to use it, follow the cow’s lead by pulling when she pushes and resting when she rests. We’ll cover calf pulling more in future articles. But part of being prepared is educating and making yourself familiar with the method of pulling a calf before you actually have to do it.
You want to keep bagged colostrum on hand during calving season in case a calf cannot nurse on the cow right after birth. If the calf gets too cold and cannot suck on a bottle, a drench bag with a hose on one end will be vital to getting warm colostrum inside of them.
It is more effective to warm a calf from the inside out rather than from the outside in. For this reason, you can skip the warm bathtub method and replace with a drenching of warm colostrum (made with 104 degree F water) and a toasty place to rest (such as inside a heated well house).
Keep a kit full of smaller supplies in your calving shed, work truck or wherever it’ll be the handiest to grab and run. Items to pack include:
- Elbow-length gloves
- Ear tags
- Ear tagger
- Nose hold (in case the cow needs to be restrained better)
- Lariat rope
If running water is not present, round up some jugs of clean water, antibacterial soap, disinfectant, etc. in case a problem arises.
You may end up needing to contain a cow inside a pen for a period of time. For this reason, keep a bale of good hay near the pen and a bucket or small tank for water. Also stock up on any extra feed you might supplement her with.
Don’t forget to keep a record book handy throughout the season to track all of the changes in your herd. Say a prayer for safety and sanity as you enter into the calving season, and do your best to have things lined up in case a need arises.
Keep your vet’s phone number handy, as well as a number for a trusted rancher or cattleman. What one person might not be able to help you with, the other just might!