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Tips to keep pricey calves alive

Tips to keep pricey calves alive
Winter livestock tips for a successful calving season.

It's 2015 and beef cattle producers are gearing up for calving season. With cattle prices expected to remain strong moving forward, keeping these pricey calves alive is critical this winter. University of Missouri livestock specialist Eldon Cole offers cattlemen several management practices that can help them this coming season.

Cole estimates that between 60% and 65% of calves arrive in the first four months of the year in Missouri. "The number born each month varies but February and early-March probably has the most activity," Cole explains. Although preparation varies from farm to farm, here are some basics management practices to consider.

PROTECTING CALVES: With strong cattle prices, beef producers have much at stake with this year's calf crop. It is time to improve management practices to protect future profits.

"Sort cows as much as possible into appropriate management groups," he says. "At least separate the fall calvers, even late summer calves, from those due after Jan. 1."

Related: 5 Tips To Prepare Cattle For Winter

It is also a good idea to sort mature cows away from first-calf heifers. Young females need closer attention and usually better quality feed to calve in a body condition score of 6.

"First-calf heifers can be fed late in the day, just ahead of dark and they're more likely to calve in the daylight hours. This should please you and your veterinarian," Cole says.

Daylight-born calves actually have a greater chance of survival as the weather is a bit warmer than in the middle of the night.

It is also a good idea to select the most naturally protected pasture from north winds as a calving pasture. If the favored calving pasture doesn't have protection, big bales of hay (and cedar trees) may be considered as a windbreak.

"Now is also a good time to plan what you'll do for those severely chilled calves," he says adding that cattlemen should consider a calf warming box.


If scours have been a persistent problem recently, a scour vaccine for the expectant cows and especially the heifers may be in order 6 to 9 weeks before the first females are due. The first year, a booster 3 to 6 weeks prior to calving, is required.

It is a good practice to feed springers adequately before calving and in early lactation. "Shorting them on protein and energy results in weaker calves, reduced milk production and slower return to estrus without benefit of reduced calving problems," Cole adds.

Related: Winter Brings Greater Risk for Predator Damage to Livestock

It is also a good idea to begin feeding a high magnesium (10%) supplement a few weeks prior to calving. "Base your decision on past problems you have had with winter grass tetany," he explains. "Keep the high mag supplement out until warm weather arrives, mid-April in the Ozarks."

It is also a good idea to treat the herd for lice if not done recently.

"As the calving season begins, do your best to keep the age spread narrow between newborns and their older siblings by moving to cleaner pastures," Cole says.

If scours do occur, develop a routine of feeding, treating, and checking for calving that involves not transporting diseases form sick calves to healthy ones. Diseases can be carried on clothes, boots, gloves, etc.

Also note that feeding large hay packages in rings or feeders should be evaluated as they may become a trouble-spot for mud, manure, trampling of small calves. Cole says unrolling bales may be a better practice for sanitation plus newborns love to lie on the hay.

"I realize all of these tips may not be attainable, but do the very best you can," he adds. "Remember, that baby calf you get started off on the right foot could be worth $1,300 to $1,500 in the fall of 2015."

Planning for all possibilities is the best way to prepare for a successful calving season. But do it right! Download our free report, Best Practices for a Successful Calving Season, to ensure you have everything in place to limit stress on you and your herd.

Source: University of Missouri Extension

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