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Your calving season checklist — be prepared

Don’t wait till the last minute to start searching for equipment

Before calving starts, you want everything you might need on hand, and have all facilities and equipment functional and ready for use. A few calves may arrive early, so don’t wait till the last minute to get machinery or other equipment out of the calving barn or maternity pen if that’s where you stored or parked it. I can remember a cold January day when one of our old cows calved three weeks early and we were madly moving some things out of a stall in the barn so we could put her and her newborn in out of the snow.

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If you haven’t used your calf puller for a few years, remember where you left it. You don’t want to be frantically searching in the middle of the night trying to find it when a heifer decides to calve ahead of schedule and needs help, or you discover that it had a problem and you haven’t fixed it.

A calving kit

It’s also a good idea to have a “calving kit” containing the basic things you’ll need. Dr. Robert Callan of Colorado State University says this should include disinfectant to add to wash water for cleaning up a cow to check her or assist a birth, or for dipping a calf’s navel. “Povidone iodine (Betadine) or chlorhexadine (Nolvasan) both work. Nolvasan is more expensive but not necessarily better,” says Callan.

It’s nice to have both the scrub product and the solution. The scrub contains a detergent and can be used when cleaning the back end of the cow. “The disinfectant solution is something you’d dilute with water as a rinse,” he says.

Have a bucket that you could fill with warm water mixed with disinfectant solution, a scoop for pouring the water/disinfectant over the back end of the cow to clean her up, or squeeze bottles (like empty dish soap bottles) for squirting warm water and disinfectant onto the cow.

“Roll cotton works well for scrubbing and cleaning. It holds a lot of fluid when you pull it out of the bucket. It works better than paper towels or clean rags,” Callan says.

Middle of the night is no time to start looking for calving tools. photo: Heather Smith Thomas

You need a good OB lubricant when assisting a dystocia.

“There are two kinds. One is carboxy methylcellulose, which works best if you add half a gallon of hot water to the gallon of lube. You can use a stomach pump and stomach tube to put the lube directly into the vaginal canal and uterus before you start correcting a malpresentation and pulling the calf. Diluting it with hot water makes it easier to pump in, and warms it to body temperature,” Callan says.

“The other type (J-lube, a polyethylene polymer), is less expensive and comes as a powder. Just add warm water. But this lube can be fatal if it gets into the cow’s abdomen. If there’s any chance she’ll need a C-section, don’t use J-Lube.”

Callan recommends giving newborn calves vitamins A, D & E if cows were on dry forage before calving, or if pasture quality is poor due to drought.

“Don’t use last year’s bottle with dust on top that already had multiple needles going into it. If the product was contaminated with bacteria, this could result in injection-site infections. Vitamin E preparations have a short expiration date. Start with new bottles.”

Pull chain is some of the equipment to have clean and ready to go. photo: Heather Smith Thomas

Have colostrum for emergencies. A colostrum product should have a minimum of 100 g of IgG per dose.

“Frozen colostrum from one of your own cows is better than any commercial product,” says Callan. “For freezing colostrum, it’s handy to use 1-gallon Ziploc bags. Collect a quart of colostrum from a mature cow right after (or while) her calf nurses and put it in the gallon bag to freeze. The gallon bag has a large surface area when frozen flat, and can be thawed quickly in warm water.”

A checklist for things to have on hand

  • Bedding for calving barn or maternity pens unless cows are on clean pasture
  • Halter and rope, or headcatch and swing-away gate that’s safe for pulling a calf when the cow goes down
  • Disposable long-sleeve OB gloves
  • Obstetrical lubricant in squeeze bottle
  • Plastic bucket and/or plastic squeeze bottles for wash water
  • Rags or roll cotton for washing the cow
  • Clean OB chains or straps, and handles
  • Long soft cotton rope for laying down (casting) a cow for easier calf delivery (after correcting a malpresentation and before pulling the calf )
  • Calf puller
  • Oxytocin for stimulating milk let-down and uterine contractions (to help a cow clean)
  • Epinephrine to relax the uterus so you can push a calf back in to correct a malpresentation
  • Suction bulb for suctioning fluid from nostrils of a newborn calf that’s not breathing
  • Iodine or chlorhexadine for disinfecting navel stump of newborns
  • Flashlight (with batteries that work)
  • Injectable antibiotics for cows/calves, prescribed by your vet
  • Sterile syringes and needles
  • Bottle and lamb nipple for feeding a newborn calf
  • Stomach tube (nasogastric tube) or esophageal feeder for feeding calves that can’t suckle
  • Separate tube that’s used only on sick calves, and marked/labelled for that use
  • Frozen colostrum from last year, or packages of commercial colostrum replacer
  • Toolbox to hold/carry needed items in one handy place
  • Calf sled/cart to bring newborn calf from field to barn
  • Elastrator rings if you band baby bulls at birth
  • Injectables like vitamins A, D & E, selenium, etc. for newborns
  • Vaccines for newborns if your veterinarian recommends them
  • Ear tags for calf identification
  • Electrolytes — or use homemade mix (1⁄2 teaspoon salt, 1⁄4 teaspoon “lite” salt, 1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda) to dissolve in 1 to 2 quarts of warm water
  • Warming box or some other system for warming a chilled newborn
  • Towels for drying chilled calf • Two thermometers — one for sick calves and one for checking newborn or young calves that get hypothermic

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