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  • Susan Roberts

Calving Checklist Part II: 10 basic things you need for a basic uneventful birth

The first in this series, Part I: Prepping for Calving Season, was about getting ready for calving season, which primarily focuses on nutrition and health for the mamas.

At Bossy Boots Ranch, we're calving a little later than usual and are only about a third of the way through our calving for the year. (See our cute calves here.) So with 5 mamas ready to pop literally any day, I thought I'd share our routine protocol for a basic, uneventful birth. Then stay tuned for the last in the series, Part III: Preparing for calving emergencies. [[Note that I am not a vet or otherwise medically trained except for experience, my vet's input, and Dr Google!!]]

Most of the time, everything goes as planned. In these cases, you really do need just a few basics. Preparing for the birth felt intimidating to me at first, so I remind myself that cows give birth unassisted and without any health supports all the time! That said, I do try to be there at every birth because it's amazing and sometimes there can be little glitches.

Once baby is out, I leave it alone with mama for a bit. (Or rather, I back off and watch from a distance because it's so amazing!) She needs time to create the first bond, start drying baby off, get it standing and trying to nurse, etc.

During that time, I grab my go-kit which I have packed and ready! I've listed these in the rough order I do them, which comes in handy if you aren't able to do everything. For example, the NursemateASAP is more time sensitive than the ADEB12, so I give it first. If I happen to get only one thing into baby before mama starts to fuss, I'd rather get the Nursemate. Details and links for reference are below this short list along with some additional supplies that other people have in their go-kit.

  1. 5 gallon bucket to carry everything

  2. Flashlight or headlamp

  3. Molasses water for mama

  4. 7%+ Iodine Tincture for navel dip ** if you don't do anything else for a newborn calf, dip their navel!!!!**

  5. Nursemate ASAP for bioactives

  6. ADEB12 gel for energy

  7. Electric shaver and Cleanup II -- only needed during fly season

  8. Ziploc baggie for tail hairs testing

  9. Measuring stick

  10. Vet's phone number

It's worth noting a couple of things you should have at-the-ready in your emergency kit because they're time sensitive -- you will need them in a specific time window and may not always have time to run out the store.

  • Chains and lube for pulling

  • Colostrum for first feeding

Here's my more detailed list with notes

1. 5 gallon bucket

  • Use whatever you have, even pockets! I find a nice bucket invaluable to load everything up in.

2. Flashlight or headlamp

  • I promise there will come at least one time when you are running out after dark and missing a light.

3. Molasses water for mama right after calving to provide energy and hydration

  • After working hard, I like to give my mamas a nutritional recovery treat. I get a 5 gallon bucket, mix about 1-2 cups of blackstrap molasses in about a gallon of hot water so it mixes well, and then fill the rest of the bucket with cooler water so overall it is lukewarm. If she slurps it down, I may give a little more.

  • I give mama this treat to distract her a little while I do things like navel dips.

4. 7% Iodine Tincture (or higher) for navel dip immediately after birth

  • This is a MUST HAVE, and it's super easy! I little iodine in a disposable cup, dip the umbilical cord in the cup until it touches the tummy.

  • The open umbilical cord is a well-documented open channel for infection. Be sure to check the % because standard iodine is not typically 7%, even iodine from a ranch store. I have found this one at ValleyVet.

  • This article from University of Wisconsin-Madison has some good info about navel care during a calf's first 2 weeks.

  • A newer trend is to use Vetricyn Super 7 Ultra spray instead of an iodine dip. It's more convenient, less expensive, and may be easier to find. But a quick google search will warn that you need to be careful to fully saturate the navel.

The rest of my list really is optional, but a lot of producers regardless of size use these next items as part of their routine protocol.

5. Bioactives immediately after birth to support immunities uptake from colostrum

  • Bioactives prime a calf's digestive system to process and use the immunities naturally occurring in colostrum. They've been shown to stimulate the calf to be able to stay standing longer to nurse. And they have bacteria and enzymes that help protect against scours. There's several bioactives to choose from, and you should give them in conjunction with the first colostrum nursings/feedings.

  • NursemateASAP is the one that I use. Two other high quality bioactive supplements that are commonly used are Dual-Force First Defense and Calf Pruf.

  • When I couldn't get anything delivered quickly enough, I found Durazyme at my local ranch store. It's not exactly the same but it was similar.

6. Vitamins and Minerals right after birth to support systems and energy

  • ADEB12 is a regular part of my protocol as it gives a boost of vitamins that stimulate appetite and energy.

  • Many producers give Multimin90, which provides critical and often-missing minerals of zinc, manganese, selenium and copper. I haven't yet added this to my protocol. Multimin90 requires a prescription.

7. Fly preventative within a few days to protect against general fly pests and fly strike

  • This is of course only necessary during fly season, but it can be critical. Calves WILL have sticky newborn poop. Sometimes mama just can't keep up and it gets stuck to their bum. If flies get attracted, fly strike can happen quickly and fatally. It's important to do bum checks regularly for the first few weeks and clean up as needed.

  • At birth, a little bit of fly control on the tail head, along with a personal hygiene shave around the bum area, can help keep flies away. I've been using Cleanup II successfully this year. Others swear by Ultra Boss. Avoid things like Ivermectin because during fly season you could also be in grub season, and also Ivermectin has high toxicity for calves under 3 months.

8. Ziploc baggie for tail hairs to do genetic testing any time

  • Genetic testing for cattle is not required at all, but can tell you specifically what color the calf is, whether the calf is polled or horned, and whether it has chondrodysplasia.

  • This testing is done by plucking tail hairs and sending them into a lab. There's no reason you necessarily need to pluck tail hairs at birth. Except that I promise you a 2 hour old calf is easier to catch/pluck than a 3 day old calf!

  • I have a ziploc baggie in my go-kit because out in the pasture with the wind blowing you want to seal it up and prevent losing or contaminating the tail hairs. However, note that the labs would recommend to NOT store tail hairs in a ziploc because trapped moisture can degrade the sample. So if you can't process/mail the sample the same day, transfer the tail hairs to a paper envelope.

  • I typically use UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, but another common choice is Texas A&M Animal Genetics Laboratory. You'll want to look at the instructions for your lab and make sure you collect/store the appropriate number of tail hairs. I usually over-pluck. Poor little things!

9. Measuring stick for, well, measuring

  • Everyone thinks their calf is the teeniest tiniest little thing! It's best to know for tracking growth, logging in your records to track sire offspring sizes, for future records, or later sales purposes.

  • I have a stick and I mark a quick line on it to measure later. You can also use a measuring tape or t-stick or whatever.

  • Many producers also take calf birth weights. I don't do this now simply because I just haven't gotten to it. I've seen creativity about using luggage scales, sling scales tied to a sturdy tree, etc.

10. Vet's phone number

  • I've actually emailed pictures of odd things more than I've ever called. But either way, you want to have this handy.

Now for a few more items to have handy. These aren't really needed right at birth, and I don't personally use all of them. But a LOT of producers do, so it's worth sharing.

11. Intranasal respiratory vaccine within the first week

  • A real and critical risk for calves is respiratory viruses in the first few weeks before immunities have fully kicked in. A clean environment where the calf won't continuously face-plant in cow manure is helpful, but you can help that even further by giving an intranasal respiratory vaccine. The intranasal delivery is quick and fast-acting.

  • I use Inforce 3, which is the gold standard and has been around for over 20 years. It should be given at 3 days old. A newer alternative is Nasalgen, and it should be given at 1 week old.

12. Scours protection right after birth

  • I have not had any incidence of scours on our ranch, so on my vet's advice I do not give routine scours protection to mama or baby. But I'm including it here because many producers give it routinely with good success.

  • ScourGuard is a killed vaccine used before calving that passes immunity to the calf, and Calf-Guard is a modified live that protects against rotavirus and coronavirus that can be given to mama prior to calving and also orally to a calf immediately after being born.

13. Colostrum replacement for first feedings

  • You may never need to feed colostrum. But it is so so so so time sensitive, and can have so so so so much impact on the health of your calf that you will want to have some on hand. It's so important that dairy farms routinely use bagged colostrum instead of relying on mama at all, and many producers test IgG in calves to ensure they got proper doses.

  • This is a topic that warrants its own post, so watch for that soon!

  • You will likely need to order high quality colostrum replacement. The stuff you get at your local ranch store is better than nothing, but it is not generally sufficient. Also, watch out that you get colostrum replacement and not colostrum supplement.

  • If you're ready to feed colostrum, you also need a calf bottle and/or tube feeder.

  • I have this colostrum replacer on hand from KSX, which has 150 g of bovine globulin proteins. The Sav-a-Caf brand is the only one my local ag store carries, and it has only 100 g globulin proteins.

  • I have not ever done IgG tests, but here is an example of one that is a rapid check based on a blood draw Immuno-Chek G.

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