Know Your Vet, Facilities, and Animals for a Successful Calving Season

Special considerations for first-time heifers can support a safe calving season. Knowing your vet, your facilities, and your animals are essential.

Reader Contribution by Loretta Sorensen
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by Pixabay/NWimagesbySabrinaEickhoff

Saving calves during calving season is key to a profitable operation. However, don’t sacrifice your own safety in the process.

Know Your Vet Ahead of Time

Before calving begins, establish a Veterinary Client Patient Relationship (VCPR) with the local veterinarian, getting them acquainted with your operation and your cows. When you need a vet, it’s beneficial for everyone involved if they are familiar with your operation. Keeping veterinarian contact information close at hand can help when you need to take quick action.

Prep Your Facilities

Prior to calving, evaluate calving facilities and ensure you have prepared a place to catch an animal in case a cow needs calving assistance. This greatly reduces potential for injury for you and the animal. Make sure you have excellent lighting around your facilities so you and your vet can better assist an animal.

Know Cattle Behavior

Have a clear understanding of cow behavior to help avoid dangerous situations when cows are calving. Go slow. Cattle can only think about one thing at a time, so going slowly allows them to process their thoughts as you’re moving them. Give them time to think about what you’re asking them to do. Keeping the cow’s stress level as low as possible helps prevent delays in labor.

If you know a cow needs calving assistance or suspect  they do, take every precaution not to get that cow agitated before the vet arrives. Increasing that cow’s stress level just puts two people in danger once the vet gets there. If a cow feels threatened by anyone or anything, she can quickly shift into flight or fight mode, and will run over whatever is in front of her, in an attempt to get back to what she considered her safe area, i.e., where you weren’t bothering her.

In order to focus on an object, a cow often moves its head up and down. When approaching a cow, come in from the side rather than using a direct linear approach. This can be less threatening to the cow. When moving toward a cow, move steadily toward it. Stopping and staying still is predatory behavior. Cattle are prey animals and will easily feel threatened by anything that moves like a predator. At any time, but especially during calving, stay out of the cow’s blind spots and move in sharp turns, working in triangles or ‘zigzags, because a predator moves in sweeping turns from side to side.

Special Consideration for Pregnant Heifers

Like people, every animal has a flight zone, similar to a person’s comfort zone. Once you breach that zone, the cow instinctively shifts into flight or fight mode. Cattle have strong herd instincts, and their natural tendency will be to return to the herd if they feel threatened. If you’re bringing a cow into a pen, be sure to use a large opening with an alley that narrows as she moves into the pen. This will help guide the cow to a specific space.

First-time heifers will be especially nervous the first time they calf. They’re already not sure what’s going on with their body and when we ask them to do something or try segregate them from their herd mates, it adds to their stress levels. Take extra time with these first-time heifers. Never turn your back on any mother cow.

In some instances, allowing a cow to have the calf outdoors and then moving mother and baby to a barn or shed may be the safest process for both mother and baby. Safely calving during nighttime hours increases the importance of using safe livestock handling principles.

Thorough preparation prior to calving and staying focused on avoiding dangerous situations will help make calving season safe and profitable.

Loretta Sorensen writes from her home in southeast South Dakota, where she regularly develops agricultural safety and health articles for the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (CS-CASH) at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Connect with Loretta on Facebook and Twitter.

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