Best Tips for Calving

Spring brings on seemingly endless projects; equipment repairs, structures, prepping for planting, and CALVING, it all seems to come at once. You have taken care of those mama cows all year now is the time to plan for delivery of healthy baby calves, and reap the rewards for all your efforts.

Start by prepping your calving area, get the essentials lined up and ready for use: square bales for bedding & feed, colostrum replacement, ear tag, calving book for record keeping, veterinarian’s number on speed dial, calf boost, syringe, plastic gloves, sedatives, halter, calf puller, and clean towels. Preparation is critical, the care a calf receives its first hour of its life, can have an enormous impact on its future health and growth development.   


Starting with delivery, it is normal to want to jump in an assist with birth when you see the first tiny hooves first poke out, but it is best to let the cow take her course, it’s natural for her to stop for a few minutes, give her the time she needs for the delivery.

“Upon delivery make sure the calf is breathing, if not place a clean piece of straw in nostrils and pour cold water on calf’s forehead”. Next, “Sit the calf up on its sternum by tucking the front legs under the body”. This position ensures the airways are clear and it makes for easier the calf to breath.

Some farmers practice lifting the newborn calf upside down to help clear fluids from lungs. “Research has shown this practice does indeed expel fluids, but they are contents of the stomach, not the lungs,” says Fordyce. Upending the animal actually causes more stress to the animal. Internal organs press against and crush the diaphragm, making it more difficult for her to breathe.”*

When calves are born stillbirth, do not give up, even though they may not be breathing, check for a heartbeat by placing your hand over the heart under the left leg near the ribcage. If there is a heartbeat you have a chance to revive the calf. Immediately start rubbing the chest heartily and poke a clean alfalfa stem in both nostrils and splash cold-water on its head. This method will often wake them up and they will be fine.

Warming Boxes Good or Bad?

Use warming boxes only when necessary, the issue with using warming boxes is that when a calf is placed in one for over 48 hours, their internal stores of brown fat are exhausted giving them less ability to adapt to cold temperatures, when transferred to a calf hutch. Brown fat is the type of fat found in healthy calves that display non-shivering thermogenesis creating heat from body fat, to keep themselves warm. Use of calf jackets or additional bedding may be a better solution in frigid temps and help conserve important brown fat.

Importance of Colostrum in the First Hours

Feed colostrum once the calf is breathing well, optimally within the first two hours of birth, after 24 hours the calf’s ability to absorb important immunity and nutrients drops off dramatically. Use colostrum from the cow, another cow, or a high-quality store-bought colostrum.

Prepare ahead of time following these important steps to ensure a successful calving season and for additional information on calving see

*Calving Basics: The First 15 Minutes, Jim Dickrell March 8, 2018

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