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Key points to note in calving process

Teagasc advisers George Ramsbottom and Meadhbh Stokes have created a handy checklist for the calving process. The guidelines are aimed at reducing problems and maximising the number of live calves on the ground.

Equipment

1. Calving ropes

White or preferably brightly coloured soft braid ropes are less easily lost in straw bedding. The ropes are best positioned above the calf's fetlock joint and secured in position before traction is applied. Sterilise them before and after use with boiling water and disinfectant.

2. Iodine

Fresh iodine should be available to treat a calf's navel after birth.

3. Calving jack

The vast majority of injuries caused to calves and cows at calving are due to the abuse of calving jacks.

Modern jacks provide the farmer with the pulling power of six people and pull five times harder than the cow can naturally force during calving.

The use of calving jacks can be reduced significantly if the cow or heifer is allowed sufficient time to calve naturally.

The signs

1. Springing -- usually begins 10 to 12 days in advance in mature cows and earlier in heifers.

2. Final 'bagging up' -- does not always happen in suckler cows particularly those in poor condition at calving (below condition score 2.5).

3. Softening of the vulva and relaxation of the ligaments (the pin bone ligaments) on either side of the tail head.

Supervision

Good supervision of the suckler cow close to calving is vital to minimise losses. Moorepark research has shown that in nine out of 10 cases of calving loss, the calf is still alive at the start of calving, and in eight out of 10 cases, the calf died within five minutes of calving.

A rousing alarm clock or a CCTV system could be essential for proper supervision of cows and calves around calving time.

Some farmers use a uterine relaxant injection to confine calving to the daytime. The injection can delay birth by around eight hours and is available from most veterinary surgeons.

Late evening or night feeding has been linked to increased daytime calving. For late evening feeding to be effective, cows must be fed their daily allowance of silage or hay once/day and the amount fed should be completely consumed within 12 hours.

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Patience

When it comes to calving cows, patience is a virtue.

Moorepark research has shown that 90pc of mature cows and 50pc of heifers will calve naturally within two to three hours of the start of calving respectively. Remember that premature interference with a cow can result in introducing infection, increased risk of damaging the birth canal and bursting the waterbag.

Treating the newborn calf

Disinfect the navel of the calf after birth with tincture of iodine to prevent navel ill and joint ill. The entire navel cord should be covered with iodine. This should be repeated again if the suckler calves remain indoors and navel ill is a problem -- reapply iodine between 12 and 24 hours later.

Encourage the cow to lick the calf. This prevents the calf from becoming cold, particularly when she is calving outdoors. If the cow fails to lick the calf, give it a brisk rub down with clean hay or straw.

Check the cow's udder and teats for possible infections. Assist the calf to suckle shortly after calving. A newborn calf requires one litre of colostrum per 10kg birth weight.

Absorption of the antibodies it contains will be greater if the calf suckles the cow.

Absorption is reduced if the calf is fed by hand but it's better than leaving it to chance -- particularly 'slow' calves.


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