Sound Ag Advice

Cattle producers making the right management decisions can be the difference between life or death for newborn calves during cold weather says Gerald Stokka, NDSU Extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist. Stokka joins this week’s Sound Ag Advice to discuss how to give new calves a healthy start.

What is Sound Ag Advice?

“Sound Ag Advice” presented by the NDSU Extension Service features NDSU Extension specialists and staff talking about current crop and livestock issues. “Sound Ag Advice” is free and can be used in any way you see fit.

Speaker 1: Kelli Anderson, NDSU Agriculture Communication Specialist
Speaker 2: Gerald Stokka, NDSU Extension Veterinarian and Livestock Stewardship Specialist

Kelli: This is Sound Ag Advice, a weekly feature presented by NDSU Extension. I'm Kelli Anderson and I'm joined this week by Dr. Gerald Stokka, NDSU Extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist.

Today we're going to be talking about how this brutally cold winter has had an impact on our state's cattle producers. So, Dr. Stokka, what are some of the management decisions that need to be made prior to calving to minimize the impacts of cold weather?

Gerald: Thanks for the question, Kelli. Actually, some of these decisions, we have to go back in time, they actually may begin a year prior, it may begin at preg-check time. And I'm bringing that up because we know that all cows don't read the gestation table, and they don't all calve on the same day, which is a good thing. But we know that cows will be spread out over the calving season, if you have a 60 day, turnout time for your bull, those cows will calve over a time period that's actually greater than 60 days, but they want all calves at the same time.
So, when we get really cold weather, we want to have those what we would call maybe higher risk animals closer to protection, and maybe a small building because with the herd sizes today, we don't have barns big enough to hold 300 to 500 cows. So, we try and prioritize which cows might calve during the evening, perhaps, or the day, if it's the day like we've had previously. Can we get those cows into a place where there's some protection from the wind or some bedding that provides an environment for that calf, that's going to leave his environment very nice and comfortable and be shoved into one that's less than comfortable. So try and identify which cows might calve in the next 24 hours is one way that you manage those herds and provide some protection and better environment for those brand new newborn calves.

Kelli: Let's say a rancher gets their cows up close to a building prior to calving. What should they then do right away to make sure a calf gets up and gets a healthy start after being born?

Gerald: I'd say building a windbreak or straw pile or some type of protection. That's exactly right. Part of the responsibility for getting that calf up is actually the mothers are responsibility. And they usually do it beautifully. You know, when you're talking about adult cows, she usually gets up minutes after calving and gets to start licking that calf and stimulate that calf and somehow, they direct that calf to its very life source, which is the colostrum. But if you see a calf if you happen to be there, and this is why we talk about checking every couple hours when it's really cold out, and you notice a calf that you're pretty certain hasn't gotten up. And sometimes you can figure that out that they haven't nursed, their mouth will be cold. If you have a calf with a cold mouth, you got to do something, even though you think it's laying there comfortably, that tells you they haven't nursed, you need to intervene.

Okay, this may require that you move that cow and calf into some place where you can even catch the cow. And you may have to milk the cow, a beef cow, and they don't always appreciate it, they don't always realize that you're trying to help. So you have to kind of can't take control of the situation. Somehow you got to get some colostrum into that calf. I call it lifesaving. If the calf is really cold, though, in addition to colostrum, you may have to provide some external ways of heating that calf up. You know, we talked about hot boxes and heaters and that sort of thing. And that's fine. But if you got a calf, that's really cool. Let's say his rectal temperature is 86 degrees or less, it's going to require warm water. You know, it will take 100-degree water in order to warm that calf up, but that warms that calf up quicker than external heat sources.

Kelli: Let's talk about disease risk. What are some ways that ranchers can minimize risk of disease once they have a calf born?

Gerald: That's a good question that's related back to this colostrum issue. Colostrum is the life and health protecting device that those calves utilize to keep them from getting some of these infectious organisms. So that's number one. And guess number two, there are other ways to provide colostrum and that's frozen colostrum or there are claustral substitutes. Those are the keys with preventing disease and then moving them to a place where that calf can get on its feet and get going and bond with its mother. Just takes a lot of stress out of that calf's life and will make him less susceptible to some of those infectious diseases.

Kelli: Great information for our state's beef producers in this cold weather calving season. This has been Sound Ag Advice, a weekly feature presented by NDSU Extension.