Getting ready for March madness (calving!)

Farm Forum

We’re entering two of my favorite times of year right now; basketball playoffs and calving season. They both represent the end point of a lot of time, energy and resources. The goal of a basketball team is to make a deep run in the playoffs and the goal of a rancher is to save as many calves as possible. One of the key components for success in both fields is preparation. And for a rancher, success during calving is critical. Over 60% of calves that are born but die before weaning are either born dead or are lost within the first 24 hours after birth, according to USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System data, with calving difficulty being a significant cause of death.

Whether it’s on the basketball court or the calving barn, preparation is a key component to success. Having everything in place before the first cow or heifer is due will help make sure that every calf is given the best possible chance of survival, but also reduce some of the stress on the help. One thing to keep in mind, as we’ve selected cattle to be easier calving we’ve also selected cattle that tend to have a shorter gestation period. I’ve been surprised more than once with a heifer that calved much earlier than the gestation table said she should, so being prepared ahead of time is smart planning.

Weather conditions for spring calving herds in South Dakota can pose a major challenge. Having some plans in place for feed supplies, bedding and shelter will really help cut down weather related losses. Last year should have taught us that we need to plan for the possibility of winter weather in April as well.

Dr. Russ Daly, our SDSU Extension State Veterinarian, has put together a suggested list of supplies and equipment for calving. I’ve included some of his suggestions here, for the full list you can visit and type in “calving supplies” in the search box.

Some of his suggestions include:

• Buckets (one that can be used for disinfectants and others that can be used to mix colostrum/milk replacers.)

• Disinfectants, antiseptic soap, and OB lubricants

• OB chains (easier to clean than straps and ropes.)

• OB handles

• Calf puller

• OB sleeves

• Old towels

• Navel disinfectant

• New syringes & needles

• Tubing bags/esophageal feeders

• Medications, etc.

Deciding when a cow or heifer needs help isn’t always the easiest decision to make. I came across some data from Montana that might help provide some guidance. In that study, heifers that were assisted as soon as the water bag or feet were visible were more likely to be cycling at the start of the next breeding season. Those heifers that were helped earlier had pregnancy rate that was 19% higher than their herd mates that went through a prolonged labor.

Free Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Certification Opportunity

Beef producers have an opportunity to receive free BQA training between now and April 15th through a partnership between the beef checkoff, Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. and the Beef Cattle Institute. Normally it would cost producers $25 to $50 to become certified using online training modules. These programs are customized for cow/calf, stocker/backgrounder, feedlot, and dairy operations.

BQA provides practical management tools to produce safe, high-quality beef as well as improvements in efficiencies and production costs. Maintaining consumer confidence in our product is going to be critical to our success going forward. I’d encourage everyone involved in beef production to take advantage of this opportunity. Please visit or for more information or to get started.

Reach Warren at 605-882-5140 or