A shopping list for calving season

Farm Forum

Even though we’re still in the throes of winter, the days are flying by and gradually getting longer. Soon calving season will be upon us. For some, this season is going already. For the rest of you, the question arises: Are you ready?

The facilities and equipment that will be needed to help deliver calves and get them up and going are good to get in order well ahead of time. When it comes to their equipment and supplies, I know many cattle producers that were well-prepared well in advance of calving. They would come into the vet clinic a couple weeks before the first calf was due and get stocked up on the supplies and tools they would need to get their season off to a good start.

Then there were, shall we say, less prepared cattle producers: those whose preparation for the calving season consisted of knocking the dust off the calf puller minutes before putting it into use. You know who you are. The rest of this column is for you!

Seriously, the events of calving season are unpredictable enough even during a good year. Having the right tools and supplies on hand when they’re needed saves precious time and likely the life of a calf or two. For all of these items and advice about their use, there is no better source than someone out there pulling calves every day–your local veterinarian. They have the experience with and knowledge of the latest equipment and products. And you can usually count on your local vet clinic to have these items on hand, because the vets use them themselves every day.

The first items to put on your shopping list are for use when the unfortunate situation arises in which one will have to pull a calf. Of course this means a calf puller in good working order. But what about your OB chains and handles? Chains work better than ropes or straps for cleanliness and durability. Specialized calf-pulling equipment like a head snare can come in handy. Ask your veterinarian whether they might work for you.

Just as important as having this equipment on hand is having the supplies on hand to keep it clean. Cleaning and disinfecting the calf puller, chains, handles, and snares between uses not only decreases the chance of bacterial infections for the cow or calf, it also means the equipment lasts longer. Get plenty of antibacterial soap (to remove organic matter) and disinfectant. Get what your veterinarian uses and you can’t go wrong. Having some good brushes on hand helps these chores immensely, along with having a well-stocked cleanup area.

When it comes to the delivery process, it’s necessary to clean up the cow before reaching inside to help deliver the calf. A cow-friendly antiseptic soap such as chlorhexidine surgical scrub works great, followed by a rinse with some water containing disinfectant. You’ll want to have a good bucket on hand to help with this process. A stainless steel or heavy rubber bucket is a good investment over the random 5-gallon bucket salvaged from a deep corner of the barn. A plastic cup to dip water from the bucket comes in handy. Cleaning up the cow prior to delivery might seem unnecessary to some, but it does reduce the incidence of uterine infection later on.

There are also supplies associated with delivery that you’ll need. I’m a big proponent of using OB sleeves. Sleeves keep you and the cow cleaner, and help prevent the rare instances in which you could obtain an illness from the reproductive fluids of the cow. One thing that many producers skip is lubricant. There might not be anything more important in pulling a calf than using plenty of lubricant: you can never have too much. OB lube can come in gallon jugs all ready to go, or in powder form that can be mixed with water to form a slippery goo. Use what your vet uses, and have a lot of it on hand.

So now you have a good start on your shopping list for calving season. In the next column we’ll start jotting down items you’ll need once that calf is on the ground.

Russ Daly, DVM, is the Extension Veterinarian at South Dakota State University. He can be reached via e-mail at russell.daly@sdstate.edu or at 605-688-5171.