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Calving Tips &Tales

Blossom And The Cat

Every year my dad makes a pen just for the calves. And in this pen he’ll put a really nice bale of hay, some oats, and then he’ll set up a shelter where just the calves could go. Every weekend I would go inside this calf pen and climb inside the bale feeder and feed hay to calves by hand. Eventually I had almost all of the calves “eating out of my hand.’’ But there was this one calf that was really friendly who we named Blossom.

Now Blossom and I became friends and together along with the rest of the calves we went through a lot of hay that winter.

This one weekend my sister came with me to the cows and this fluffy orange cat followed us. When we walked past the cows, all of the momma cows were looking at him funny, but we didn’t think anything of it. This fluffy cat followed us right into the calves’ pen where we were sitting in the bale feeder.

None of the calves liked him so they all took off running. But not Blossom. This was her pen, so instead of running away from the cat, she charged towards him. This fluffy cat didn’t run out of the pen, but instead ran into the shelter, where Blossom followed. All of a sudden, my sister and I heard all this banging and thumping and then this streak of orange fluff flying out of the shelter.

When the momma cows saw this flying orange cat, a few of them joined in the chase. He got away safely but that cat never did come for a walk to the cows with us again. And we’re pretty sure that that cat had a few grey hairs in him after that. As for Blossom, she’s still my best friend who still doesn’t like cats.


Mystery triplets

When I was about 15 years old I was helping my father do daily chores during calving season. There was a cow that had a calf and another cow that wasn’t showing but she was acting funny so we figured she was going to very soon. So we put that cow in the barn to calve and we put the other cow with the calf in a maternity stall in a shelter. She seemed to take the calf and we didn’t look any further into it.

A little while later I went out to see if the cow in the barn had calved. I peeked in the barn and she hadn’t calved yet so I continued on to the shelter to check on the newborn. When I got there I was surprised to see another calf in the stall. I radioed my dad and told him that she had had twins.

Then I went back into the house and awhile later checked the cow in the barn again. Still no calf. I went on to check again on our newborn twins and was very shocked to see a third calf laying in the stall. I radioed Dad right away and told him the news. He didn’t believe me when I told him we had triplets so he came out to see himself.

After a few minutes of checking over the calves a thought dawned on me. I went back to the barn and reached into the calving cow and sure enough, she had calved already. The first calf belonged to her.

We soon got everything straightened out and my excitement about having triplets wore off pretty fast.


Placing a large round bale among calves could help

Dr. Larry Delver, a cattle producer and chair of the Cattle Industry Council of the Albera Beef Producers and an Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC) director, has some timely tips to reduce stress in the calf crop. “I like to make sure the vaccine program is current and the way to check that is to check with your veterinarian and also find out what your neighbours are doing. Reduce the parasite load as much as you can. I like to use a pour-on because that’s pretty stress free.”

Delver also suggests that, at weaning time, you get the calves as far away from their mothers as you can so they don’t keep bawling at one another. Calves are curious. They’ve been grazing. If you can keep them on grass they will have something they know, but make sure there’s something in the feed bunks too. Also make sure there’s lots of water that’s handy for them.

A bale of straw might play a role in reducing stress on calves at weaning time. Delver adds, “A producer told me that placing a large round bale in the middle of the corral seems to give the calves some comfort. They’ll walk up to that bale — lay down next to it — and that seems to shorten the bawling period.”

Delver warns that a dusty corral causes dust to get into the calves’ lungs predisposing them to respiratory problems.

He passes along one other bit of advice: “Talk to an observant cattleman. He’s going to twig to something that can be done to make it a little bit easier on calves at weaning time.”

Molasses fostered this calf

Last April when trying to adopt a twin calf onto a cow who had lost her calf we were almost at our wit’s end; how long were we going to run the cow into the chute, let the calf nurse, morning and night? She was wearing us thin, and still hadn’t accepted the calf.

We had tried various commercial products. Then I thought of how our cows loved it when we had given them molasses blocks (pretty much candy for them). I ran to the house, found the only molasses available, my fancy cooking molasses I use to make gingerbread cookies, not that you would need exactly this.

I put some on the cow’s nose, and a good portion onto the calf and she nearly licked the calf to death. After that they were officially a cow-calf pair.


A keen mother

My husband and I returned home late one night from the local fair to discover two cows had just calved. The Simmental claimed the red calf with a white forehead and the black cow claimed a still wet, wobbly calf. Both calves kept going to the black cow to nurse and the Simmental cow was nervously keeping an eye on everything. We proceeded to seperate the cows and calves so that each baby could bond properly with its mother for the night. I commented to my husband that I would not have expected a red calf from the black cow. In the morning we checked on the new additions to discover the black cow had a second calf, one that looked excactly like what she should have based on how she was bred. My husband and I looked at each other surprised when we realized the Simmental had twins and the black cow had claimed one of them.


An impromptu calf puller

Most of the time I use a Red Angus bull, so I don’t have to use this much.

But in calving time, I carry a stout ironwood staff. It is useful in backing off a belligerent mother, but its main use is to pry out a calf. You wrap a piece of baler twine, (I keep a clean piece of this in my coverall’s pocket), around the calf’s legs. You know, a bit of a loop around both. Put the staff between the two pieces, then I drive the end of the staff in the ground, or if it is frozen, behind a bit of manure or some such. This gives you the leverage that allows you to pry out the calf without wrecking your back. It also pulls down more at the right angle than you otherwise might and pops the calf out fast and easy.


Use a little touch-up on the teats

If you have a newborn calf, and you are not sure if the calf is sucking its mother, then try the following awesome tip.

Spray the cow’s teats with Sullivans Ultra White Touchup, which is commonly used for painting on show cattle.

The paint has a chalky white substance as a base, and is therefore harmless to the calf. You can spray this on the mother’s teats and if the paint disappears then you know the calf has been sucking.

There is an inexpensive and safe method to test this theory. Use black paint on white cattle, and white paint on black cattle!


A little red hen

Just thought I would send you a picture of two little orphaned calves. If you look closely you will notice an old red hen that was banished from the henhouse, and sought the warmth of these two baby calves. She lived with them and kept herself cosy warm all winter.

My calving tip… When you are trying to get a cow to accept another’s calf, mix some milk replacer and put it in a spray bottle, then spray the cow’s nose. She will lick her nose and begin to get a taste for the milk. After a bit of this, start to spray the calf. Soon she will start to lick the milk from the calf and voila! Mom has a new baby.


A Sled With A Collar

Hello! My name is Guillaume Barrette and I am a cow-calf producer from Québec. My family and I run a herd of 200 cows. The most used tool during the calving period is the calf sleigh. We have three of them. After having built and modificated the box, we finally eliminated the possibility for the calf to jump out by using a collar fixed on the floor of the box. Using this, a single person can easily work around the calf and his mother.


Mineral Tubs Help

We winter our cattle outside and they start calving in early spring. We start to put out 26 per cent mineral tubs in December and have found the cows have strong and healthy calves. The cows definitely benefit from the tubs and the healthy outdoors.


Surprise twins

This is a true story about calving season. My husband had left for work and I knew one of our big milk cows was due to calve but I was hoping that she would wait till he got home. But of course no such luck. The fool had to start calving just after he left.

There was the water bag and two feet showing, one white foot and one red foot, so I went and got the chains and thought this should be easy. Wrong. I couldn’t budge anything, so I went to the house and called my neighbour Rod. “Do you have time to come over and help me pull a calf? Bill’s gone to work.”

“Sure,” he said.

As soon as he came over and saw the feet sticking out he said, “we’ll both pull.”

Only thing is the cow didn’t like that so she started stomping her feet and moving around. So Rod said, “the vet is over at the neighbour’s preg testing. I’ll see if he has time to come over.” Sure enough Ben the vet said he’d come over as soon as he was done.

Later in the afternoon when Ben arrived he took one look and pushed everything back in. Then he proceeded to pull one white calf out then reached back in and pulled one red calf out. Their legs were intertwined so every time we’d pull, momma would do a dance.

Both calves were healthy and I was sure glad to have neighbourly help.


What should I have done?

I am writing to relate an incident that happened to us last winter in the middle of calving season. This wild cow had a calf during the night on the straw pack, and the calf was discovered at first daylight in a good-size water puddle that was frozen over.

The little guy was not too far away from death. So we got chased a couple of times by the cow before we were able to pull him from the water and load him on the calf sled.

It was only about -5 C, but we got him into a warm milkhouse where we tried to dry him off and warm him up. We were careful not to get him too clean because we had heard that sometimes the mom won’t take him back.

Well guess what? After five or six hours of shivering we got him back to mama and she had a claim on another newborn calf. Both moms are very protective at calving so we are not able to work with them at all.

Some people have said put perfume on both the mom and calf. But that is impossible with such a wild cow.

So, what could a person do in the future if this happens again? The baby was cold and wet and had to be cared for. It could have been left out in the cold with the mom. Anyone got an answer?


Editor’s Note:There are a few suggestions in this issue Lloyd, including some advice on what to do with dangerous cows.

Use coal oil

I am now 79 years old and have worked with calves for years. I want to tell you my experience with a calf that had frozen legs, right to the body, nose, ear and tail.

I used coal oil in towels and wrapped all four legs. I put some on the nose, ears and tail too. Within minutes the calf was running around my kitchen.

I fed it colostrum milk in a bottle and three hours later took it out to the cow. That calf did not have any pain or side-effects. It grew to be a big calf by fall and did not lose a leg. Its ears were fine and so was the tail.

This is what people do in Siberia, Russia. They use coal oil for frozen hands and feet and they have no pain or lasting side-effects.

The auctions always bid less for calves with frozen ears and tails.

We have purebred Hereford cattle.


Pasteurize colostrum

Pasteurize colostrum to improve calf health and prevent organisms from spreading to your replacement herd. It may also improve blood immunoglobulin (IgG) levels.

Heat the colostrum to 140 F for 30 minutes to reduce bacteria counts without affecting IgG levels of viscosity.

Calves fed pasteurized colostrum absorb more IgG.



I no longer calve anything out but years ago when I was calving about 30 Holstein heifers per week a neighbouring beef farmer told me how to get daytime calving by feeding the cows once a day in the evening. It worked. I fed the close-ups about 7 p.m. and rarely had one calve outside of the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. I think the theory is that with full bellies they just want to lay around and rest, but whatever the reasons or the science, I sure got a lot more sleep after that.



Just a little tip to use when pulling a big calf and you think it might be hip locked. Pull until it is out about two inches behind the shoulders, then take the puller off and turn the whole calf so it is sideways and fits through the pelvis, then resume pulling. It has always worked for me and I’ve pulled some pretty big calves.




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