Why calving season is different this year

Vet Advice with Dr. Ron Clarke

The first major event facing cattle producers in 2019 is planning for calving season. This year there is a new wrinkle in managing animal health programs on the ranch: establishing a veterinary-client patient relationship with a veterinarian. This provides an avenue to access medically important antimicrobials through a prescription as needed. There are few ranches not needing an antimicrobial to treat things like bacterial scours, umbilical infections, coccidiosis and respiratory infections.

Sit down with your veterinarian and talk about what veterinarians require from producers so clients comply with existing drug regulations. Producers also need to understand the pressures on veterinarians to oversee that they issue and prescribe drugs appropriately and maintain the necessary records, which represent legal documents. Prudent use of antimicrobials is monitored through ongoing practice inspections conducted by individual provincial professional veterinary associations. It’s imperative that producers know what to expect from their veterinarians and for veterinarians to develop a solid understanding of production practices on client premises.

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Everyone involved in the production industry must take these changes seriously. Large corporate clients of the beef industry support these initiatives. McDonald’s, over the next two years, will assess use of medically important antimicrobials in beef production with the intent of “refining, reducing and ultimately replacing antibiotic use with long-term solutions to prevent diseases and protect animal health and welfare.” The prudent use of antimicrobials is not going away.

Disease prevention is the overriding principle in reducing the need for antimicrobials. Producers need to address things such as biosecurity, vaccination and nutrition as part of the package they discuss with their veterinarian.

Calving season, 2019, is just around the corner and planning for it should not only include getting this year’s calf crop on the ground and keeping them healthy, but also consideration of events down the road, particularly breeding season, pasture conditions and next fall’s market. Many producers will take stock on how calving management goes in 2019 and make adjustments for 2020. There will be the wrecks that need careful review by producers and veterinarians, there will be plans to expand and downsize, and there will be the urge to take short cuts because everything has gone without a hitch for a number of years. Proper planning is always a part of getting through these things successfully.

Basic principles

Most brood cows nursing calves require 15 kg of hay per day or its equivalent in grain, silage and other roughages.

Proper management of feed resources requires feed analysis. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.

Optimal disease control, especially control of calf scours, and the best use of feed resources require separating cows that have calved from those that have not.

Mineral and energy needs of the brood cow increase rapidly after calving. Extra nutrients are required 90 days post-calving to ensure that cows will produce maximum milk and rebreed efficiently.

Some common injuries and diseases of beef cattle at calving respond rapidly to treatment with little effect on the subsequent breeding period, while others have a decided effect on rebreeding. Know the difference by working with your veterinarian.

Calving losses in heifers are higher and most of these deaths are a result of calving difficulties. The chances of calving problems in heifers run about five times that for cows. Heifers should be calved separately from cows so they can be watched more closely. Development programs for replacement heifers, including diets that support maximum growth, combined with selection of bulls with a lower birth-rate index are key factors.

Calves should receive five per cent of their birth weight in colostrum within 12 hours of birth. For a 34 kg calf this represents 1.8 to two litres.

Breeding activity needs to be closely monitored, especially through the first few weeks. Plan for bull backup in breeding fields.

Herd expansion involving large numbers of replacement heifers usually requires a rethink on BVD vaccination programs.

Reproductive efficiency has the greatest impact on the economic returns of a ranch — more than any of the more highly heritable traits. The lack of feed intake (energy and protein) sits as the most common cause of a drop in reproductive performance of beef herds. For a cow to calve every 365 days, she must breed within 83 days after calving. It takes 40 days for the uterus to recover following calving, leaving 43 days for cows to conceive every spring to keep their appointment on the calving grounds 365 days later.

Good planning means making good decisions on eye problems, bad udders and bad feet. Assume an early cancer eye, a cow that’s been lame all winter or a pendulous udder is only going to get worse on pasture. Cull deep!

A history of scour problems may signal necessary change to preventative vaccination programs and better management of the calving grounds, like regularly moving cows that haven’t calved into new areas away from those that have already calved. Clostridial diseases, like blackleg, never go away and taking steps to prevent them should be a routine part of planning vaccination programs.

Planning should include parasite control.

The planning calendar gets especially busy for producers incorporating artificial insemination into breeding programs. Heat synchronization programs, heat detection, bull choices, semen storage, facilities, length of breeding season, use of cleanup bulls and proper nutrition are all a part of running a successful AI program.

Plans should include simple things like placement of salt and mineral stations on pasture.

The Five P’s — proper planning prevents poor performance — govern most things in life. For nearly everyone I know, the Five P principle has weathered the test of time, an enduring thing that helped turn the corner toward success on most things people try. The cattle business is no exception.

About the author

Columnist

Dr. Ron Clarke prepares this column on behalf of the Western Canadian Association of Bovine Practitioners. Suggestions for future articles can be sent to Canadian Cattlemen ([email protected]) or WCABP ([email protected]).

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