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November 1, 2023
You can never prepare too much or too early for calving. Now is the time to focus on supporting your dams throughout pregnancy to ensure the arrival of strong and healthy calves.
“Locally, we’re seeing 500- to 600-pound calves selling around $3.00 per pound. That is money you do not want to leave on the table,” says Brett Terhaar, DVM, beef technical consultant for Elanco Animal Health
The final trimester, or 60 to 90 days before calving, is our opportunity to set the cow and the calf up for success. For the calf, those final 60 days are when approximately 65-80% of fetal growth occurs.1 For the cow, ensuring a proper body condition (BCS) score 90 days prior to calving is critical for both calving and rebreeding.
If a cow lacks condition, it may not have the energy reserves needed to calve and too much condition may lead to calving difficulties due to too much fat deposit along the birth canal. An ideal body condition score is 6-6.5 for first-calf heifers and 5.5-6 for cows.
“Evaluate the BCS at the 90-day pre-calving mark and find ways to add weight if needed. Moving one BCS is about 80 pounds, so you need time to make some movement. Moving the BCS post-calving is almost impossible,” he says. “When you’re spending upward of $3,000 on a heifer and she’s too thin, that’s where some big money can be lost because chances are she is not going to be able to breed back.”
As the cow nears calving, ensuring she is housed in a clean comfortable environment, has access to adequate nutrition and clean, fresh water will aid in the development of strong, healthy calf. Solid nutrition during the pre-calving period can influence delivery, calf survivability and calf health at birth. Feeding micronutrients like copper, selenium, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin E to the cow in late gestation can support calf health and immunity in the early stages of its life. Inadequate nutrition can result in weak labor, increased calving difficulties, impaired milk production, reduced calf vigor at birth, and ultimately, weaning weights.
All calves are born with a naïve immune system and their initial immunity depends on colostrum consumption, so high levels of the immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibody in the colostrum are key. Cow nutrition is also important for adequate colostrum quantity and quality, and vaccination can be a valuable tool to help boost levels of IgG in colostrum to specific disease-causing organisms.
Vaccinating during pregnancy both increases antibody levels in the cow to improve her immunity and promotes the development of essential antibodies that will be transferred into her colostrum. To be effective, vaccination timing is key. Antibody production does not start immediately when a vaccine is given to the cow, the cow’s body must first recognize the antigen and then signal the cells that aid in the immune response to start producing antibodies. This process can take up to a week to start and an additional two to three weeks to see considerable antibody production. Beginning four to six weeks ahead of calving, antibodies start to transfer from the cow’s bloodstream into the colostrum. This continues until a day or two before calving. Timing of the initial vaccine and booster is critical because it helps ensure sufficient time for antibody production and antibody transfer to the cow’s colostrum, all while minimizing stress on the dam near calving. Administering vaccines before IgG transfer begins can aid in increasing the antibody content of colostrum.
Calves should receive colostrum within the first 12 hours of life to ensure passive transfer of immunity, as colostrum is critical in protecting the calf from disease-causing pathogens it will be exposed to after birth. After 12 to 24 hours, absorption of colostrum from the gut significantly decreases.
“If you know a calf is born in the morning, take the time to check it by afternoon to confirm it has nursed,” Terhaar explained. “If it hasn’t, this gives an opportunity to intervene before the vital passive transfer window closes.”
Learn more at FarmAnimal.Elanco.com/us/OneStepAhead.
1 Duggan S, Pirell G, Estill C, Ranche J, Weber D. Beef cow-calf management guide. Oregon State University. 2021. Available at: https://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pub/em-9327-beef-cow-calf-management-guide
Elanco and the diagonal bar logo are trademarks of Elanco or its affiliates. ©2023 Elanco or its affiliates. PM-US-23-1987.
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