10 Steps for Having a Less Stressful Winter Calving Season

Posted: January 11, 2018 | Written By: Heidi Doering-Resch, M.S.

Can you believe it’s already the new year? Happy 2018! I hope you are just as excited for the new year as your Form-A-Feed Beef Team is. We appreciate your business partnership through 2017, and we hope to continue to build your trust and provide value to your operation through our many successful programs.

A new year means a new crop of calves hitting the ground. All the hard work and late nights figuring breedings will be showing up soon. It’s time to start prepping both physically and mentally for the upcoming calf crop. Here are some friendly reminders to help you have a less stressful calving season:

  1. If you will be calving within the next 30 to 45 days, please make sure you have started to feed a late gestation formulated mineral supplement as well as adjusted your overall nutritional program to suit the calves increased growing needs during the third trimester. As you will see, their protein needs don’t really change until after they have calved but their energy requirements do steadily increase about four months prior to calving (see Graph 1 below). 

    winter calving
    Graph 1: 1200 lb. beef cow nutrient requirements
  2. Look through your cow herd and make sure you are calving cows that are in a Body Condition Score (BCS) of 5 to 5.5. If possible, move cows that are less than that to a different pen to not have as much competition during this critical nutrient time.
  3. Make sure first calf heifers are in a BCS of 6. Most heifers will lose a full BCS during lactation, and in order to have a successful breed-back window, she needs to be kept at a little higher condition score than her more mature counterparts. I would argue the same goes for your 2nd calving cows. Typically, they will report the worst conception rates as they fall between the cracks when they are turned out with mature cows who will continue to push them around.
  4. Late gestation is the most expensive time to try to gain condition. Therefore, you should make it a practice to BCS your herd at least three times a year so you can economically add weight during low nutritional demand times, like after weaning.
  5. Consider feeding Rumensin® to your cows during late gestation. Many benefits can be realized by feeding up to 200 mg/head/day of Rumensin during late gestation. (Legal upper limit is 200 mg/hd/d).
    1. Cows that are more efficient and utilize high forage roughages better
    2. Reduce cocci exposure in drop pens
    3. Cheapens up your mineral program by basically paying for the mineral with the increase in efficiency and reduction in total DMI needed to meet that cow’s nutritional requirements.
  6. Be sure to calve in clean areas. If you haven’t done so already, make sure your calving pastures or pens are clean and bedded. Provide clean, open water as well as wind breaks or well-ventilated calving areas.
  7. Prepare for cold calving conditions. Make sure you have a warming hutch/box for calves that are chilled and have your calving supplies at your ready that are clean, not out of date and available should you need to use them.
  8. Calf health is directly related to colostrum intake. Be sure cows have had adequate mineral and nutritional needs met so that she has the best ability to pass along the antibodies that calf needs to be the healthiest calf it can be. If cows have had optimum nutrition and mineral their last trimester and meet the BCS goal of 5 or more, they will set their calf up for better immunity against disease (see table 2 below). 

    winter calving
    Table 2: Effect of Body Condition Score on both IgM and IgG serum concentrations in newborn calves.
  9. Check in with your veterinarian to make sure you are on the same page with your vaccination program and see if there is anything further he/she recommends for the upcoming calving season.
  10. Remember that cows that calve within the first two calving intervals are the most profitable for your operation. If you have cows that are falling behind this trend, be sure to schedule time with your nutritionist and your veterinarian to see what you can do to help shorten your postpartum interval. Earlier calving means heavier weaning weights and a more profitable herd.

The new year brings new challenges and new birth. It’s my favorite time of year as the reset button has been pushed, and we can continue to improve upon our goals for healthier cows and calves, making for a profitable 2018. As always, please be sure to check in with your Form-A-Feed nutritionist with any questions you may have. And be sure to register yourself for our 2018 Professional Beef Conference that is set for February 21-22nd at Grand Falls Casino in Larchwood, Iowa. We look forward to seeing you there!