Time to Examine Calving Priorities.

Published on Wed, 12/19/2018 - 2:02pm

 By Jaclyn Krymowski for American Dairymen Magazine.

 If you know dairy, you know that every season is subject to being calving season. Rain or shine, sleet or snow, when they’re ready to drop you have to be on your toes. It takes no small effort to get those calves off to the best possible start and those cows off to another great lactation. With calving being such a routine procedure on the average dairy, sometimes remembering the basics gets lost in the motions. For example, you might not realize you’re running low on something in your calving kit until you need it desperately. Here’s your opportunity to take a step back and evaluate your procedures, what you have, what you need and what you might be able to improve upon.

The calving environment
The calving pen or maternity barn isn’t just another animal facility. This is where the cow spends the most stressful time period during her transition. Just as with fresh cows, these animals deserve your utmost attention, maximum comfort and a high level of biosecurity.
Studies have shown that, even in the confined dairy environment, cows still retain their natural calving instincts. They prefer to seek out the deeper bedded areas of the pen that allow for them to “nest” as calving approaches. If your calving pen looks like it’s getting flat or low on straw, that’s because it probably is. Even in group calving pens, cows tend to prefer a secluded corner to themselves during calving. Watch these lesser-trafficked areas, keep them clean and well-bedded. These are also the areas that you may need to spend extra time cleaning out post-calving. Removal of all uterine fluids and cleanings is crucial to maintaining a strong biosecurity program in the maternity pen.
You may also want to consider the movement and stocking density of these groups. According to various research, close-up cows that have limited bunk space and are frequently moved between groups are at an increased risk of dystocia and metabolic diseases. Consistency is crucial during this time, keep that in mind with your ration and feeding time of these vulnerable animals.

Standard protocols
Are you and your employees on the same page when it comes to calving, newborn care and treatment of fresh cows? According to 2014 data from the USDA, only 60% of all dairy operations had a formal personnel training program in place. Of that, 41% had oral presentations and only 12% had some interactive element, such as video or hands-on opportunities.
Don’t assume having a “Standard Operating Procedures” sheet tacked to the barn wall will be sufficient. Take the time to explain your expectations, requirements and procedures to all your employees in all the areas they will be working. Be sure to explain the “why” aspect in your training, remind them nothing is just another set of rules and expectations. Everything is a necessary methodology to ensure the greatest wellbeing of the animals for the present and in the years to come.

You also might want to self-reflect and make sure that you are setting a good example handling calvings correctly each time. A big priority that sometimes gets overlooked is the calving supplies on hand. Do you sterilize OB chains after each use? Are all navels dipped with a sufficient amount of iodine each and every time? Do you have all necessary drugs, supplements and supplies on hand to treat troubled cows and calves? Try to take a regular inventory of what you have and keep tabs on your supply levels.
Be sure to have all necessary contact information posted near your calving pens in case of emergency. Have things like your vet’s information, your personal contacts, and any other personnel of note readily at the disposal of those working in the maternity barns.
And finally, it may sound unnecessary and tiresome, but sit down and take a look at your calving supply inventory. Write a list of everything you think that must be kept on hand, the approximate quantities of each and compare it to what you have in stock.

Some of the basics should include:
• a calf puller
• OB lube
• OB chains
• electrolytes
• frick tube and pump
• IV supplies for both cow and calf
• iodine and dip cups
• plenty of dry, clean towels
• a calf warmer or blanket, if applicable
• any standard treatments you routinely administer to newborn calves.

 Calving can hit you at any time of day or night in any form of weather. Always remember to expect the unexpected and be prepared for whatever comes your way. By having your team all on the same page and keeping them adequately supplied, you can expect the best from as many calvings as possible.