Advice for dairy farmers: Don’t close the book on your spring calving season yet

Many farmers have been able to get silage in over the last 7-10 days around the country.

It is the biggest step towards preparing for next winter, and it’s a great relief to get it done in dry conditions.

It’s not long since the spring suckler herd was calving — and a good time to look back at what happened and to make plans for next year?

If you wait too long to review calving events, time will have lessened most of the problems in your mind, and you’ll soon has difficulty matching the calving season with particular problems.

Listing your losses and sick animals is a good start. 

Your cattle are in a recording system that will provide that information. 

Your calving notebook should have the dead calves checked off and a brief note on what happened to each.

Identifying patterns or problems

Were most of the losses at calving.

Or did they involve first calving heifers, which could indicate that sire selection needs to be made more carefully, with attention being paid to easy calving sires for heifers.

Perhaps the heifers were under-developed. 

This could contribute to more calving difficulties than necessary. 

Does this indicate improvements needed in youngstock feeding and management?

Did losses increase after calves had reached 10-14 days of age? This of course often means that calf scour is a major cause of deaths.

Calf scours can be more likely in calves from first calved heifers. 

Calves that receive inadequate amounts of colostrum within the first six hours of life are five to six times more likely to die from calf scours. 

Calves that are born to thin heifers are weakened at birth and receive less quality colostrum, which compounds their likelihood of scours.

Often, these same calves were born via a difficult delivery, adding to the chances of getting sick and dying.

All of this means that we need to reassess the breeding heifer growing programme, to make sure that heifers are at a body condition score of 3.0 at calving time.

Do you use the same calving boxes each year for calving? 

There may be a build-up of bacteria or viruses that contribute to calf scour in these boxes. Ideally, calving boxes should be cleaned out and disinfected after each calving.

However, on a busy farm in the spring calving season, this is virtually impossible.

Maybe having more calving boxes will allow each to be cleaned out while the others are being used.

For some, access to calving boxes for cleaning can be an issue. 

If this is the case, modification of existing facilities, or constructing a new facility which can be cleaned out with a loader, would be ideal.

A well-constructed calving gate is a must on any suckler or dairy farm. If you don’t have one, look into it, as it provides great safety for both man and beast.

It is always a good idea to get new calves and their mothers out of the calving boxes as soon as they can be moved comfortably.

While indoors, calves under cows should be penned where possible with similar aged calves.

Using records

Based on the information gathered from recent calving events, you have a starting point for next year.

Your records should help you answer the following questions.

How many calves were lost?

What were the main causes?

* Was it calving difficulties, bull (or bulls), was cow condition adequate, were heifers grown sufficiently?

* Was it scour?

* Was it respiratory issues?

* Would not suckle?

* Did they get adequate colostrum?

* Was it other causes?

* Were cows in the correct condition calving down?

Were they getting clean, good quality feed?

Had they enough space in the shed?

Did they get sufficient quality and quantity of pre-calver minerals?

* What disease control measures are in place on farm? What are you vaccinating for? BVD, IBR, RSV and PI3, lepto, salmonella and scours, etc?

Investigating issues

Having collected the relevant information, you now need to establish what may have caused issues to occur on your farm.

Discuss your findings with your vet who will have been involved in trying to deal with the issues on your farm.

Discuss with him or her the possibility of blood testing a cross section of cows for disease and mineral/vitamin profiles.

Look at getting your silage tested to establish a mineral profile of your farm, to cross reference with any bloods you might do.

If things went well, don’t make big changes

If you had a good calving season, my advice is don’t make too many drastic changes to your system.

However if calving was less than ideal this spring, don’t ignore the signs, and take action.


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