Sunday 25 September 2016

Farm vet: Why a decent calving gate could be the best €300 you will ever spend

Niall McDonald

Published 11/05/2016 | 02:30

A calving gate is invaluable and allows safe calf intervention.
A calving gate is invaluable and allows safe calf intervention.
Niall McDonald

It's been a long hard spring that we all will be happy to see the back of after the usual workload and volatile weather was compounded by global warming or whatever Mother Nature's woes are.

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We look forward to turning out the last cow and calf on to a bit of grass on, hopefully, a warm evening sunset.

Just before we confine spring 2016 to history I have an axe to grind.

I would like to discuss the presence or absence of calving gates on farms in Ireland, in the hope that if you don't already have one you might consider putting one in now in preparation for next year's or this autumn's calving.

To cut to the chase, if I used the words I would like to use to describe my feelings on calving a lot of cows with no calving gate the Farming Independent would not print this article.

I had to calve a cow loose in a shed last Friday night and was reminded of what happened me two years ago.

I was called to calve a beef heifer on a farm with poor facilities, and more importantly no calving gate.

Admittedly, one could halter the heifer in a crush, let her out and tie her to a gate but this is obviously not ideal either. I examined the heifer down and she promptly sprung up and chased me and the farmer out of the shed.

I slipped on a piece of afterbirth and immediately the heifer was on top of me roaring and dancing like Michael Flatley in his heyday!

Eternity

The attack, which lasted two to three minutes, but felt like an eternity, was temporarily ended by my escaping over a gate to stumble towards my jeep in a bloody daze.

The heifer however had other ideas and decided she fancied another go and proceeded to clear the gate and chase me around my jeep four times. What I was gaining on the corners she made up on the straights. Just picture the old Benny Hill show with the roles reversed.

I eventually outwitted her by doubling back and jumping a hedge.

After a day of scans and x-rays and stitches in Drogheda hospital I got the all clear.

Black and blue from head to toe, I was lucky to not suffer any fractures (my body condition score was particularly good at the time which may have helped cushion the blows!) Joking aside, I was one of the lucky ones.

Several people have been killed by livestock attacks in this country in recent years. Last year, four people were killed by livestock, accounting for a fifth of all farm deaths

Apart from the additional safety for you, your staff (and vet) there are other reasons as to why having a calving gate is an absolute no-brainer. Here are a few of them:

Should a cow need a Caesarean, the chances of success are much better if you have one. Ask any vet is it easier to stitch a standing or moving target?

Calving a loose or haltered cow is more likely to end in trauma to the cow and/or fractured calves' legs due to excessive lateral movement of the cow while torque is being applied with a calving jack.

If at all possible avoid calving cows in crushes. It's just not a good idea for obvious reasons.

Aside from calving, a calving gate in the shed can be invaluable. It allows safe calf intervention (tagging/injecting) with the cow safely confined, especially important if you are on your own and mother is a bit wild or defensive.

Otherwise you are there with your back to her leaning over to tag the calf whose wails would probably translate as: "Mammy come quick, this chap is trying to cut my ear off."

Nature will often take its course and mammy will promptly be en route and you could be in big trouble.

As far as I know a decent calving gate costs from around €300, but all the above considered it's probably the best €300 you will ever spend.

Niall McDonald is a vet based in Co Meath

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