Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Go back to basics at calving time

Simple measures are vital to producing healthy calves and protecting cow health

Preventing the spread of disease around calving time is helped by having clean equipment, pens and wearing gloves
Preventing the spread of disease around calving time is helped by having clean equipment, pens and wearing gloves
Tommy Heffernan

Tommy Heffernan

Safe handling facilities are essential when calving the cow. A calving gate and clean calving pens guarantee a safe working environment and reduced disease incidence.

A lot of what I write about in this article may seem basic, but it covers some of the important issues I see affecting spring calving suckler herds in our practise where so often we hear of farmers/vets being injured by cows at calving time.

With reduced human contact a lot of our cows/heifers can be very dangerous and agitated at calving, so having these properly restrained when intervening or handling is critical to reduce stress on the cow and prevent accidents occurring.

Assuming you chose the right bull and cows are in correct body condition score (BCS), 2.75 to 3.25, at calving, then the next job is getting a live healthy calf on the ground. The target is to get over 95pc of live calves on the ground. Calving facilities should be clean as bad hygiene can lead to so many diseases. A cow should be moved to a calving box before they start calving to minimise stress.

Most cows will calve on their own so once signs of calving begins I usually recommend leaving six hours before handling animals per vaginum to make sure things are progressing ok. Earlier intervention may be warranted with at risk animals like those carrying twins. If feet and waterbag are present, the waterbag isn't burst and you don't suspect foetal oversize, then give the cow another one or two hours. At this stage if the legs are back or the head isn't showing then intervention is warranted. It is so important to always wear calving gloves and don't spare the lubricant either.

I have calved lots of cows at this stage and am very aware of space when going to pull a calf. Never chance it, if there are problems. Your vet is experienced and well placed to make a decision on calf size. A hard calving could kill the calf and leave the cow down with the prospect of not standing again.

Caesarean sections are often seen as expensive, but they are the only option in some circumstances to get a live calf on the ground with low risk to the cow. A calving jack is a brilliant tool when used correctly but it can be devastating when used wrongly.

I will always prefer to have a cow standing to correct a calf that is presented wrong, it allows for extra space to manipulate head and limbs. Put your ropes on above the fetlock and ensure you have two front legs/back legs belonging to the same calf in the birth canal. I like to use thicker (coloured) ropes and always have the knot at the bottom.

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I sometimes use head rope but it is not a tool that should be needed in a routine calving. Also make sure there is plenty room behind the cow to get the calf out.

Time your pull with the cow's contractions (forcing) to get maximum effect. Sometimes changing the angle after the chest has come out will allow each hip to pop out and to avoid hiplock. Don't 'lose the head' on the jack, patience is key allow the cow time to open up. Interestingly, I think calmness at calving is conducive to a more successful outcome when calving cows. I will always handle the cow after calving to check for tears, bleeding or another calf.

When the calf hits the ground make an immediate assessment.

Sit it on its chest to allow air into both lungs. If a calf is holding its own head up and bright in the eye this should be enough. If you're worried or it was a hard pull, then hang the calf upside down for no more than a minute and massage its chest.

Then place in sternal recumbancy, again pour cold water over the head and stimulate nostrils with some straw.

Talk to your own vet about calf stimulants that are available. I think if a cow has received a hard pull an anti-inflammatory injection must be given. I may also give an antibiotic, depending on sterility of the calving.

Also when a calf is on the ground and stable, wash the navel with hibitane solution. When the cow has bonded and a calf has sucked leave them alone.

One final thing, take great care around cows calving and freshly calved cows - don't risk it because I have seen so many accidents.

Don't be a hero - you're no good to anyone in a hospital bed.

Tommy Heffernan is a veterinary surgeon working with Avondale Veterinary Clinic in Wicklow. Contact @tommythevet on twitter

Scour prevention

This is an issue we will commonly see this time of year. It is important with any disease to look at three factors:

1 The infectious agent causing the scour

It is important to find the cause of the scour. Commonly we see ecoli in calves of more than five days and after this usually cryptosporidium or/and rotavirus and coronavirus.

After three to four weeks we can see issues with coccidiosis.

We should never assume a scour is one thing or another so make sure to test to see what agent is causing the problem.

This allows for better control measures in the future.

2 Immunity of the calf

When scour is present always assess how healthy the calves are and look at navel washing and colostrum feeding.

3 The environment

How we manage and house these newborn calves can be incredibly important. Hygiene at calving and in calf sheds is so important to reducing the spread of scours.

Disinfecting sheds, adequate bedding, good ventilation appropriate stocking densities all help reduce scour problems. Where calves have a clean area or lie back, where they can go from adult stock is great to reduce stress. Hygiene around creep feeders also can reduce the spread of disease especially coccidiosis.

Keep suckler calves that have scour on the cow and treat them early with an oral rehydration solution.

It is also important to isolate sick calves on their own with their mothers to restrict the risk of disease spreading. When calves are recumbent or severely dehydrated veterinary intervention is required.

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