As calving season progresses, calving pastures start to get beat up and calves start getting scours. This can start leading to problems with calf scours, says University of Nebraska forage extension specialist Bruce Anderson.
But, he reminds producers that the incidence of scours can be reduced by subdividing calving pasture and properly moving cows through them. Based on research done in the Sandhills of Nebraska, this is called the Sandhills calving system - and it helps break the scour cycle.
In a typical calving pasture, the concentration of bacteria and viruses that cause scours increase dramatically as calving season progresses. This means calves born a couple weeks into calving season and later may get exposed to a very high dose of these pathogens. In addition, calves are most susceptible to developing scours during their second and third week of age, just about the time potential exposure to pathogens becomes high.
Instead, the Sandhills system uses multiple pastures, to help protect calves from the pathogens. To use this system, first subdivide your calving pasture or use multiple pastures. Then, start calving with all your cows in one pasture. After one week, move all the cows that have not yet calved to a fresh pasture. Each week you repeat this process, always leaving behind the pairs born the previous week. This system of movement minimizes exposure of young calves to scour pathogens.
Obviously, selecting the right pastures for calving that can be subdivided with water available in each subdivision is critical. After all, after eight weeks you could have cattle in eight different subdivisions. This might sound like a lot of work, but it likely will be less work than treating sick calves as well as reduce calf losses.
Subdividing pastures usually improves pasture health, but with the Sandhills calving system, it can improve calf health as well, Anderson concludes.