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Animal Health Notebook

Natural model begets calving unassisted

Calving time is better than is used to be, but not as good as it could be.


If you were a mouse listening in on the conversations of a group of young veterinarians back in the late 60s or 70s, you’d hear tales of calf deliveries in bad weather and the wee hours of the night and morning.

After a few shots of Tennessee or Kentucky whiskey and a couple of beers it just might get deep and require boots. Eventually, some old cow doctor would say “Boys, I eliminated all that crap years ago.”

He would give an authoritative answer that generally had something to do with the "Natural Model" and the one-ups-man-ship stories would be over.

I have delivered a couple thousand calves, mostly after dark. I once rode with an experienced Wisconsin vet who probably delivered 300 calves (mostly Holsteins & Brown Swiss) annually in the Monroe milk shed. They were mostly alive and big. A high percentage were “snatch” cases.

It's been my experience that Wisconsin vets tell horror stories of cold weather and then walk into a clean barn and work on a fresh straw surface. They used to have four to six partners and be on-call a night or two weekly.

In Tennessee things were different. Most professional animal health practices were a one-man show. If called after 10 p.m. you were normally out in the mud with a 13-year-old boy who lacked interest, along with a widow woman who was snapping orders. The "calf to be" had been dead for a while. Often it had been 48-plus hours. I got lots of practice when I spent 12 weeks interning with Dr. Bud Blair in Searcy County, Arkansas, to hone my skills with a Utrecht fetotome (partitioning and removal of a dead fetus).

Back in the old days I would get a Sunday afternoon call or two during the late spring or summer on a regular basis. Half the neighborhood would be there to observe and ask questions. Most had already had a go of it. A few would bring dogs they needed "doctored." The community quack had just left and I was in for a circus.

Easy-calving bulls, prostaglandins and maybe education have changed the business. Much of rural America has dried up and moved to town. Corn, beans and/or trailer houses now occupy a lot of old calving pastures. Lots of my former clients are dead or in the old-folks home. Young veterinarians don’t answer their phones after hours and likely have better family relationships.

With some of that history still in our faces, however, a review on that natural model thing might be in order to recharge the cerebral cortex of those of us who are still in business.
• The natural model calves in late spring, following six weeks or more of quality green grass and cow or heifer gain.
• The natural model produces small calves.
• The natural model delivers 98% live calves that stand and nurse within 30 minutes after birth. The entire process is short and quick.
• The natural model culls and eliminates breach births (backwards). Colorado State University showed they were genetic several years ago.
• Cattle fed hay late in the day or moved to a fresh cut of grass late in the day will calve during the morning after daylight.
• Exotic (carcass) bulls, also known as weaning-weight bulls, kill cows and heifers.

In the past 40 years, English cattle have mostly been bred to become Continental cattle. All the American dairy breeds have been “bred up.” I personally believe all of this has been a mistake, a big mistake.

Claiming bragging rights just might be prideful and pride goes before destruction.

A few years back I read of a cattleman who said he normally checked his cattle weekly and never had to assist in calving. I’d say he dragged his share for a while (several years) and I’ll bet he changed and is using bulls from the natural model.

No matter what you decide concerning calving I think you’ll agree we need to be proactive rather than reactive. Planning needs to start early. (See Beef Producer in May 2015). It probably should be much earlier than we have managed in the past.

Calving season can be a piece of cake. But this will be commonplace only after studying, planning and incorporating the entirety of that Natural Model.

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