Review spring calving and make plans for a better 2016 outcome

It is not too long since the spring cows were calving.

Now is the time to review what happened, and to make plans for next year.

This is perhaps the best time to make a few notes on what to change for next year, while things are fresh in your mind.

What went well? What went wrong?

The first step is to list the dead calves.

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

If not, grab a piece of paper and pen, and list the calves.

Your calving notebook or farm package should have the dead calves checked off, and a brief notation on what happened to each.

Until all the calves are listed, the shock of lost opportunities has not had its full impact.

Can you identify a pattern of problems?

Heifer Issues

Were most of the deaths right at delivery and involving heifers?

This could indicate that sire selection needs to be done more carefully, with attention being paid to easy calving sires for heifers.

Perhaps the heifers were underdeveloped. This could contribute to more calving difficulty than necessary.

Does this indicate improvements needed in youngstock feeding and management?

Do you provide assistance to heifers after they have been in stage two of labour for one hour?

Health of young calves

Did the deaths occur in calves that had reached 10 days to two weeks of age?

This of course often means that calf diarrhoea (or scours) is a major concern.

Calf scours can be more likely to occur with calves from 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 colostrum of poorer quality, which increases their likelihood of getting scour.

Often, these calves were born via a difficult delivery, and this will increase their chance of getting sick and dying.

All of this means that you need to reassess the maiden heifer growing programme, to ensure that the heifers achieve a body condition score of 3.0 at calving time.

Calving Box hygiene

Obviously, you will use the same calving boxes each year for calving.

There may be a build-up of bacteria or viruses that contribute to calf diarrhoea in these boxes.

Ideally, calving boxes should be cleaned out and disinfected between each calving.

However, on a busy farm in the spring, during the calving season, this is a virtual impossibility.

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

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.

The facts

Based on the information gathered from this spring’s calving events, you now have a starting point for next year.

1. How many calves were lost and what were the main causes?

Pick from calving difficulties; scour; respiratory issues; would not suckle; did they get adequate colostrum; did you have any PIs and are they still on the farm and if so, why, etc.

2. 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 pre-calver minerals; did cows suffer from metabolic disorders post-calving (held cleanings, milk fever, ketosis)

3. What disease control measures are in place on farm?

What are you vaccinating for (BVD, IBR, lepto, salmonella, scours)?

Why are you vaccinating? Do you have data to support your vaccination programme?

Taking Action

Having collected the relevant information, you need to research what may have caused the particular issues that occurred 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.


As mentioned above, try to reduce the new-borns’ exposure to disease and bacteria around calving. If you need to update calving boxes, now is the time to start planning. Easier access to boxes will mean they will be cleaned out more often.


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