How to Prepare a Calving Area

By Hubert J. Karreman, V.M.D.

Cows should be allowed to separate themselves from the group when calving is obviously imminent. If you see a cow that is just beginning to show signs of calving, do not move her to some other area if you can avoid it. Doing so can delay calving twelve hours (resulting possibly in a dead calf being born) as the cow will stop the calving process to reorient herself to her new surroundings.

Finding comfortable areas for spring calving can be difficult with frozen ground. Photo by Hubert Karreman.

I know some folks will have more than one cow a day freshening, but that is no excuse not to provide a clean area for calving. Calving outdoors on clean, green grass is ideal, weather permitting. An indoor calving area must at least be dry with a lot of new straw or fodder. Box stalls are not ideal, but also not impossible. When cleaning out the box stall between calvings, lay down a thick coating of lime (Barn-Dri or Barn-Grip) to alter the ground pH and fatally upset the bacterial habitat.

I realize that not all box stalls get cleaned out between calvings (although they should!), but spongy bedding is a recipe for health disasters in both cow and calf. The best kind of bedding is straw or fodder. Sand is ideal, but it’s not available in all areas. Chopped paper sticks to everything that is wet, and sawdust can harbor coliform bugs that can enter a leaking teat when the cow is lying down. Calving in filth is not smart. Wet, mucky filth coming in contact with a dripping udder spells trouble for the cow as well as likely disease for the newborn calf (navel infection and/or intestinal diseases like coliform, salmonella, and Johne’s). If possible, dip the calf ’s navel in iodine a couple times a day for the first few days (just like a baby), so it quickly dries up nice and crisp. I realize the cow may lick it off, but its antiseptic upon contact far outweighs the potential health problems that crop up from navel infections (i.e., joint ill giving a swollen joint or joints) that are near impossible to clear up. Lay down lime and bed well between cows that are calving. Of course fresh green pasture is great—but there won’t be any in early spring! It is either frozen or mud. Harsh, winter winds or raw, chilly air will diminish a newborn calf ’s chance to thrive.

Calf jackets are great for any wet/damp calf born outside that is weak.

I realize that many of these instructions are easier said than done, but in early spring the weather and ground can be very cold and damp, so consideration must be given to what is in the best interest of both cow and calf if you are making your living as a dairy farmer. Remember that calving time is the most stressful for the cow and is obviously of critical importance to the start of the newborn calf.

Source: Four-Seasons Organic Cow Care