As spring calving season wraps up for some cow-calf producers throughout the state, now is the time to take a few minutes to evaluate how the calving season shook out. Reviewing the good, bad, and indifferent parts of the calving season allows producers to applaud the successes while taking a good look at management and assessing the potential areas of change.
Start with pregnancy checks
A good place to start is by pregnancy checking cows in the fall to decipher bred and open cows. Knowing which cows were bred allows producers to track fetal loss (abortions) from the time of pregnancy checking to calving. Calf loss due to dystocia (difficult birth) should also be evaluated as a cow-calf enterprise’s profitability is dependent on calf survival. Excessive fetal losses may need to be evaluated for potential causes such as environment, cow nutrition, genetics, breeding issues or intervention time to name a few.
Assess calving windows and breeding success
Another area to look at is the cow herds’ calving window and the cows’ ability to get bred within the first 21 days of being exposed to the bull. The goal is for every cow to calve every 12 months. Evaluating which cows are getting closer to falling out of the breeding window identifies those that need assistance to increase their odds for conceiving early in their next breeding season.
Dystocia can be a major cause of economic loss in the cow-calf enterprise and records should be reviewed to assess the frequency and cause of dystocia occurrences. Studies involving the impact of dystocia on calf health have shown that calves who survived dystocia have a lower passive transfer of immunity by colostrum consumption and higher mortality from birth to weaning. (Barrier, etc.al, 2012) Dystocia can be caused by many factors including cow age, calf size, cow’s pelvic size and shape, cow’s body condition, and cow nutrition. Keeping and evaluating dystocia records gives producers the ability to find the cause and address any management issues that may need to be tweaked. Cows experiencing dystocia should have a veterinary reproductive exam around 30 days after calving to identify and assess any problems prior to the breeding season.
Dystocia is a difficult birth, typically caused by a large or awkwardly positioned fetus, by the smallness of the maternal pelvis, or by failure of the uterus and cervix to contract and expand normally.
Ensure pregnant cows receive adequate nutrition
Another indicator to look at in the calving records is calf vigor and malpresentation (calf came backward, had a foot back, etc.) at birth as this may be a sign of inadequate nutrition. Research conducted at the University of Missouri looked at the impacts of inadequate nutrition of beef cows-during late gestation. The cows were split into two groups, one group was fed 100% of their daily requirements and the nutrient restricted group was fed 70% of their daily requirements. The study showed that 23% of the nutrient-restricted dams had incorrect calf presentation at birth and lower calf vigor at birth compared to the control group. (Redifer, etc. al. 2022) Ensure cows are receiving adequate nutrition, especially in late gestation, by using body condition score and balancing rations based on a hay test to ensure it is meeting the cows’ needs.
A cow-calf enterprise’s profitability is dependent on calf survival. Even well-managed cow-calf producers may experience difficulty during the calving season where management strategies need to be altered. Having and reviewing calving records can help address the problem areas and reassure practices that have a positive impact on calf survival.
- Barrier, A. C., Haskell, M. J., Birch, S., Bagnall, A., Bell, D. J., Dickinson, J., Macrae, A. I., & Dwyer, C. M. (2013). The impact of dystocia on Dairy Calf Health, Welfare, performance and survival. The Veterinary Journal, 195(1), 86–90. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tvjl.2012.07.031
- Rasby, R. (2015, October). Calf crop percentage. UNL Beef. Retrieved February 13, 2023, from https://beef.unl.edu/calf-crop-percentage
- Redifer, Colby. “Impacts of Poor Nutrition during Late Gestation on the Cow-Calf System.”
Driftless Beef Conference. Driftless Beef Conference, 26 Jan. 2023, Dubuque, IA, Grand River Center.