By Amanda Brodhagen
Calving season can be both an exciting and stressful time of year for cow-calf producers and having a plan in place can help improve calving success. Grey Bruce Farmers’ Week Beef Day hosted a timely beef farmer panel to discuss calving tips. The four panelists talked about their calf management protocols and provided pointers on what works well for them during calving season. Each farmer had their own show and tell time where they talked about their farming operation and gave advice.
The first panelist – Wanda Snobelen – is a full-time beef and cash crop farmer from Bruce County. She calves 110 purebred Charolais cows during the months of January and February. Her love for the beef industry started at the age of 12 when she was a 4-H member and over the years, she started building her own cowherd using 4-H project animals. Her calving window is during the winter months as it tends to be a slower time of year for the crop side of her farming business. As part of her program, she markets about 25 to 35 bulls each year. Females are sold at the Uppin’ the Ante Charolais female sale in Hanover as well as privately.
• Add limestone on top of straw packs to keep pneumonia down in the barn
• Consider installing calving cameras
• Keep cows with nice udders and keep them clean
• Lots of straw bedding
• Creep-feed calves
“Having cows with nice udders will eliminate a lot of trouble during calving so that calves can suck on their own without assistance,” said Snobelen. “Keeping clean udders is also important as you don’t want calves sucking on a manure ball.”
Snobelen said she will supplement calves with dry colostrum if the calf hasn’t sucked within the first couple of hours as she calls colostrum the “brain food of calves” which is key for them to thrive.
When asked what she saw was her biggest challenge during calving, Snobelen responded by saying that given the time of year she calves — the weather is the biggest factor. “A frozen calf isn’t worth anything,” she added.
During the question and answer portion of the presentation, Snobelen was asked about her cameras. She purchased the brand – Cow Cam out of Manitoba. “It is an expensive option, but it has lots of zoom,” she said. “We’ve had it for 15 years and I wouldn’t want to calve without it.”
The second panelist - Ron Hare – is a veteran beef farmer, born and raised on the same farm in Grey County and having spent 35 years in the financial industry as his off the farm job before retiring and returning to farm full time. He farms about 300 acres, some rented, and has an export hay business destined to Florida. Hare has downsized his cowherd to 25 cows. They are Simmental and Red Angus cows bred to a Charolais bull. Heifers are bred to a Red Angus or Simmental bull for calving ease. Steers are sold on a private treaty basis to a feedlot near Peterborough. The cattle are wintered in a bank barn and calve between February and March.
• Consider installing cameras as a calving aid (six have been installed both inside and outside the barn)
• Administer Vitamin E to newborn calves
• Keep good tagging records (Hare tags calves with the same number as the mother)
• Give booster vaccines (Hare gives a booster to his calves in September)
• Weigh calves at weaning to help with the culling process
• Vaccinate cows and bulls to prevent PI (persistently infected) bovine viral diarrhea (BVD)
“Having cattle is a labour of love,” said Hare. “It’s hard to pencil out making a profit from a small herd, so you must place a high value on manure.”
Hare also has cameras, and while he doesn’t know the brand he has, he likes them. “The cameras are an aid,” he said. “You don’t want to rely on them a hundred per cent, but they can be a useful tool.”
The third panelist – Earl Cameron — runs a 110-head cow-calf operation in Bruce County. He owns 200 acres and rents an additional 2,000 acres. His cowherd is made up of Red Angus and horned Hereford cattle and he raises his own replacement heifers. He is also a member of the Bruce Grey Beef Cow Finance, Grey Bruce Livestock Co-op, and Bruce County Beef Farmers and has worked as a Livestock Evaluator in North and South Bruce. Cameron is a proud third generation farmer and was only seven years old when he bought his first bred heifer from out west. His children have a growing herd of their own and help on the farm. Cameron breeds his cows July to August and calves outside April and May. Calves are weaned in October and sold at the Wiarton feeder sale.
• Keep problem free cows – cull cows with poor feet or udders
• Give magnets to your cows
• Rest your bulls, test them, and give foot rot vaccination
• Ensure thecalving area is clean (Cameron prefers to calve outside)
• “Be strict on culling cows as it will make calving easier and eliminate problems,” said Cameron.
The fourth panelist – Dr. Tammi Ribey – is not only a primary producer but also a veterinarian working out of Paisley. Ribey and her family operate a 500-acre cash crop and a purebred Angus cow herd of 80 cows - 60 purebred and 20 commercial cattle. Ribey is currently chair of the Canadian Angus Foundation and is a 4-H leader. On her farm they calve between January and March, breeding AI and running a bull. Select females are sold in purebred sales and bulls are sold by private treaty and the rest of the calves are sold in the presort sale in Keady. The barn they calve in was on a property that she and her husband Brian purchased 35 years ago, and they have an Arrowquip handling system for processing cattle. Ribey says the system is so handy that she can process cattle on her own.
• Wait 24 hours before touching calves
• Use bulls with calving ease on heifers
• Feed mineral
• Feed a balanced ration
• Select cows with good udders
• If a calf isn’t nursing within two hours of birth supplement with colostrum
• Count to three when calving – two feet and a head or two feet and a tail
• Don’t over-crowd and have a plan for weather and diseases
• Epinephrine can be used to help relax a cow’s uterus for those producers that like to be hands-on during calving
Vaccination protocol on her farm:
• Cows are vaccinated pre-breeding against BVD, IBR and Lepto and then again pre-calving with a scour vaccine
• Calves are given Inforce 3 in February
• Bovigold One Shot and Tasvax in May and September
In her work as a veterinarian Ribey says the biggest challenge she sees in the beef industry right now is the cost of production. “You need to justify the cost of everything you do,” she said.
As a beef farmer, it’s always nice to hear the best practices of what other producers do on their farm, what works and what doesn’t, real world examples. As they say, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and implement protocols that fit your farm and management style. Happy calving! ◊