Calving Season Checklist

By: Heather Smith Thomas

Before calving, you want everything on hand that might be needed, and 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/parked it.

If you haven’t used your calf puller for a few years, or other items that might be needed, remember where you left these. It’s frustrating to be searching in the middle of the night trying to find something when a heifer decides to calve ahead of schedule and needs help, or you discover that the item you need is broken.

Dr. Robert Callan, Colorado State University, says you’ll need disinfectant 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 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 for 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/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

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. Diluting it with hot water makes it easier to pump in, and warms it to body temperature,” says Callan.

“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,” he says.

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 short expiration date. Start with new bottles.”

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, use 1-gallon Ziploc bags. Collect 1 to 2 quarts of colostrum from a mature cow right after her calf has nursed and put 1 quart of colostrum 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,” he says.p20 (002)