As a young boy growing up in Central Nebraska, we had a spring calving cow herd. The “calving shed” that was available to us was one side of a large red barn. This barn was built in the early part of the 20th century and had stalls on one side that were meant to stall draft horses. Because we used the stalls only during March and April for the “calving shed”, the other ten months of the year they became a storage facility. Fencing materials, 5 gallon drums of grease for farming machinery, sacks of grass seed, and mineral blocks were just some of the items that were stored in the stalls. Invariably, the calving season would begin before the gestation table suggested that it should. One of us would find a two-year old that was in the midst of labor, and the calving shed was still full of supplies.
Someone once said “that Success occurs when Opportunity meets with Preparation”. Planning and preparing ahead for next spring’s calving season can help increase the chances of success. There are several key preparation steps that would be good to conduct in December to ensure success in February, March, and April. Before calving season starts do a walk-through of pens, chutes, and calving stalls. Make sure that all are clean, dry, strong, safe, and functioning correctly. Check the gates and the squeeze panels to make certain that they are ready for use. Do you still have the extra farm supplies stored in the calving shed or stalls? Now would be a good time make certain that these items are placed in another facility or at least out of the way. This is a lot easier to do on a sunny December afternoon than on a cold dark night when you need to have the calving area ready in a short time.
If calf diarrhea has been a significant issue in your herd in the past, now is a good time to visit with your large animal veterinarian. Ask about a scours vaccine given to the cows before calving, and about other management strategies that help reduce the pathogen exposure to baby calves when they are most vulnerable.
More information about management of cows and heifers at calving time can be found by downloading and reading the Oklahoma State University Circular E-1006 Calving Time Management for Beef Cows and Heifers.