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Veterinarian View | February 2023

Preparations for Calving Season

contributed article by Dr. Vince Collison, Collison Embryo and Veterinary Services,

Rockwell City, Iowa

Many of us have started calving, but for most producers calving will not start until February or March. Now is a good time to make sure you have all of the essential supplies you will need for a successful calving season.

Calf Pullers

First off, make sure you have a calf puller that is in good working order. If it’s been sitting in the barn, clean it off and make sure that it is oiled up where there are moving parts. We like the style that is a come-along, it is very simple to run and will exert more than enough force to pull a calf. Also, we like to use the extension that comes with this style of puller. If you are pulling larger calves or backwards calves, it is nice to have the extra length for pulling. This will actually save calves because you won’t have to stop pulling during a critical time to adjust chains higher on the legs.

Set of Chains

Make sure you have a good set of chains. We like to use the 60-inch chains, that gives us plenty of chain to double wrap each leg. To prevent fractures at the fetlock, we put one loop above the dewclaw and then throw a half hitch between the dewclaws and hoof. This spreads the force out and prevents a twisting movement at the fetlock joint while pulling. With a 60-inch chain you can easily double wrap both legs and have enough to make a loop for your puller to hook on.

Other calving supplies are handles to hook onto the chains while attaching them to the calf or for smaller calves that can be pulled by hand. Another nice thing to have on hand is a head snare for calves that may have a head back.


Resuscitators are nice to have on hand as well. We use them a lot for calves that come backwards or seem to be in distress. We use them as more of a suction device. When you use it this way, you can clear a lot of fluid from their mouth and airway, plus it will really help to stimulate breathing.

Birthweight Tapes

Birthweight tapes are nice if you want to have an idea of how big the calf is before you start pulling. These are applied over the coronary band of the front foot and give an approximate birth weight. The only downside is that they have grids for a heifer or bull calves, so you won’t know which sex you are dealing with. Also, these are designed for front feet, so if you have a backwards presentation, I wouldn’t use it in that situation.

OB Sleeves

These are nice to use when putting on chains, examining the situation, etc. It keeps things clean for the cow and is protective for the person doing the work. Also, a clean bucket for water and disinfectants such as chlorohexidine is nice to have for chains, handles and keeping things clean.

Hot Boxes

Hot boxes are very nice if you’re calving in colder weather. We would like to see the calf get up and nurse first before going into the hot box, but after that they can go in for a couple hours. They work very well to dry the calf off and warm it up before going back with mom.

Calf Coats

Also, if you’re calving in cold weather, you may want to consider having some calf coats on hand. These work well to preserve some body heat if it is getting to 10 degrees or less. There are also things available to put on the calf’s head to keep the ears from freezing. If you’re trying to raise show cattle, these things are probably worth having on hand.

Powdered Colostrum

Keep some powdered colostrum on hand for several calves. This is nice to use if you have a calf that isn’t going to get enough colostrum within the first few hours for various reasons. We like the kind of colostrum products that also have more fat in them and have an immunoglobin level of 115 grams or higher. This kind of product is going to be listed as a colostrum replacer. There are products available that are listed as colostrum supplements, these are usually at a level of 50 grams per bag.

My personal preference is to use the replacer products as you want to get as much immunoglobulin into the calf as possible. In reality the calf needs at least 200 to 300 grams of immunoglobulin to reach protective levels in their system.

Also, I would feed the whole bag at the first feeding. Many producers only want to feed half of a bag so the calf stays hungry, but many times this can backfire. I’ve never really felt that feeding the whole bag inhibits the calf’s drive to nurse. If anything, it will enhance it’s drive to nurse. Once the calf gets a full meal, the glucose in its system will increase brain function and make it more cognitive. This type of calf seems to be able to find the udder better and get to nursing. A calf will usually try to nurse again with in 2 to 3 hours of being fed a commercial colostrum replacer.

Iodine Spray

At a minimum every calf should get their navel sprayed with iodine. Many calf issues arise from infections from the navel. Try to do this and keep fresh bedding in the calving pens as much as possible.

This is just a list of the essentials. There are many other things, such as tags and processing items that are personal preferences for your operation.

When it comes to cow OB’s, there is a lot of variation in what a producer is comfortable handling. Don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian for advice on how to proceed with a situation or for assistance. Early intervention could mean the difference between success and failure. Also, if you think you have a potential cesarian and your veterinarian has the ability to do them at their clinic, take the cow in for the surgery. It will be much more efficient and successful working where everything is setup for the procedure.

Dr. Vince Collison is co-owner of Collison Embryo and Veterinary Services PAC

in Rockwell City, Iowa.

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