Be Prepared for the Calving Crunch

Being prepared for any event is going to reduce your stress. Preparing for the upcoming, already underway by some, calving season will reduce stress during that intense time as a cow-calf producer.

Gretchen Kamps, Belmont, WI, keeps a well bedded pen when she needs to assist with a birth. This calf happened to be backwards with feet underneath it. Being prepared to assist with difficult calving kept this calf alive.


Considering the following tips to plan and prepare can help reduce calf loss, putting more profit in your pocket.

Late Gestation Nutrient Management

The last two months of a cow’s pregnancy is when most of the unborn calf growth occurs. Feeding an adequate diet to meet the cows’ basal metabolism, activity, growth, pregnancy, and lactation requirements is needed. Heifers are still growing and have a slightly higher nutrient requirement than a mature cow. Consider keeping heifers separated from mature cows and feeding for their requirements.

Changing your feeding times two to three weeks before anticipated calving can be beneficial for observations. A convincing study of 1331 cows on 15 farms in Iowa demonstrated that cows fed once daily at dusk resulted in 85% of the calves born between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm. The advantage of checking heifers/cows during the daylight may seem obvious, but also consider the radiant heat from the sun reducing cold stress on that newborn and increasing early colostrum consumption.

Keep heifers and cows in pastures close by where they can be checked often. Access to a squeeze chute or head gate, calving pen to assist in a calf delivery, a warming box for newborns when weather is a factor are all things that should be considered.

Calf Processing

Maternal instincts kick in during the calving process. Cows and heifers can be very protective and aggressive toward any approaching creature. Leaving the dog in the truck and working with another person to process calves is a good safety measure. Taking a vehicle or UTV into calving pastures provides a working area and some protection if she objects to your calf processing.

Making sure the calf is breathing is top priority right after birth.  Clear the nose and mouth of any mucous or other obstructions. Encourage healthy breathing by tickling the nostrils with grass or straw to initiate a sneeze. Do not hold the calf upside down as the weight of the internal organs on the diaphragm may decrease lung expansion.

Ideally, calves will stand and nurse colostrum within the first 30 minutes after birth to receive the passive immune building function. Wet or curled hair around the teats along with a shiny appearance indicates the calf has nursed. The calf should be fed colostrum if it has not had the opportunity to nurse within the first two hours after birth.

Recording the calf birth date, sex, weight and calf ID is a good start to record keeping. Consider recording Dam ID, Sire ID, calving ease score, cow body condition score and notes to be used for future herd performance improvement. A simple pocket sized calf record book is a convenient tool. Phone apps are available as well. Calf Book is a free app to collect calving data and can generate reports.

Take Home Message

Your management techniques before, during, and after the calving season significantly impact your cow-calf operation. Organization, accurate records and proper calf management improve calf health and productivity, which ultimately means more profit.  Using proven management techniques will help ensure you have a successful calving season. For more about the beef industry, visit the Wisconsin Beef Information Center at or contact your local UW-Extension office.

Article written by: Kory Stalsberg, UW Extension Dairy and Livestock Agent- Grant and Lafayette Counties, article recently appeared in Wisconsin Agriculturist.

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