Calf 911 – How to Manage Colostrum to Allow Newborn Calves to Thrive *New Video*

Ensuring newborn calves consume colostrum is one of the most important management strategies cow-calf operations can implement to promote healthy calves. Colostrum provides essential antibodies (like Immunoglobulin G or IgG) to a calf with virtually no immune system. Colostrum also contains fats, vitamins, proteins and other immune cells essential to provide the calf energy, warmth and the local immunity it requires to thrive in the first few days of life. This initial immunity will protect against calfhood diseases such as scours, navel abscesses, septic arthritis and pneumonia.

Calves that are born unassisted and uncompromised will typically stand and nurse from their mothers within one to two hours after birth. However, calves that experience a difficult or prolonged birth, have a swollen tongue, experience hypothermia or are a twin may be less vigorous and unable to stand and nurse during that critical period. A cow with a large udder, poor udder suspension and/or large teats may also limit a calf’s ability to receive adequate colostrum.

It is crucial for producers to observe newborn calves to make sure they have received colostrum and to intervene if necessary. Look closely to see if any of the cow’s teats have been suckled, feel if the calf’s belly is full and check the hooves to see if the rubbery capsule has been worn off to indicate standing. Checking a calf’s suckle reflex by sticking your fingers in the calf’s mouth is also a simple indicator to demonstrate whether the suckle reflex is weak and the calf needs to be supplemented with colostrum. Continue reading

Calf 911 – The Ins and Outs of Esophageal Feeding *New Video*

While the goal is to always have vigorous calves that nurse right away, and maternal cows that bring them up right, illness and suckling issues can be a reality. Esophageal feeding, also known as “tube feeding” or “stomach feeding,” is essential when a calf requires colostrum or if you are treating dehydration in a sick calf. Knowing how to properly tube feed a calf is critical to help support calves when they are at their most vulnerable. Here are a few tips to consider while tube feeding calves:  

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*UPCOMING WEBINAR* Setting Records- Calving Season Data Collection Jan 12th



While calving is one of the busiest times of the production cycle for cow-calf producers, there’s a lot of important information that can be collected. Which data is the most important to help you make critical decisions on your operation? This presentation will discuss the records that are worth spending valuable time collecting at calving.

Register for our upcoming webinar on January 12th and hear from a veterinarian from the University of Calgary as well as a producer sharing their practical perspective. The speakers will  share  insight and answer your questions about data collection at calving and how to make the best decisions for your operation!

This webinar also qualifies for 1 continuing education (CE) credit for registered veterinary technologists and technicians. A total of 3 CE credits will be available over the course of the BCRC 2021-22 webinar series. For more information on CE accreditation for RVT’s and veterinarians, please contact Dana Parker (parkerd@beefresearch.ca)

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Registration Now Open For 2021/2022 Webinar Series



This year’s Beef Cattle Research Council webinar series will cover a range of topics including backgrounding, record keeping and grazing plans, all focused on practical, science-based information for Canadian beef producers. 

Register here. (This link will allow you to register for the entire webinar series.)

See topics and descriptions below. Continue reading

Dealing with Dehydrated Calves – When and How to Use Electrolytes

The following is the final articles in a series of three posts featuring calving management practices and intervention strategies to help producers optimize newborn calf health and well-being. Read part one to learn about resuscitation techniques and part two about colostrum.

Supplementing young calves with electrolytes is sometimes necessary. Electrolytes are given to calves showing signs of dehydration, usually due to scours. In the case of calf scours, most calves that die from scours don’t actually succumb to the virus or bacteria causing the symptoms, but rather die from dehydration. Adequately rehydrating calves when they are sick is key for calf survival. Here are a few things to remember when rehydrating calves: Continue reading

The Key to Setting up a Healthy Calf for Life? Colostrum

The following is part two of a series of three posts featuring calving management practices and intervention strategies to help producers optimize newborn calf health and well-being. Read part one to learn about resuscitation techniques and part three to learn about when and how to use electrolytes.

Newborn calves are born with virtually no immunity of their own. Unlike other mammals, a cow’s placenta does not allow antibodies to pass from the mother to the calf during pregnancy, which means the calf must receive its initial immunity from the antibody-rich colostrum, or first milk, of the cow. This initial immunity is essential because it provides protective antibodies against many of the diseases that affect newborn calves, such as calf scours, navel abscesses, arthritis and pneumonia. If the calf is at risk of not having adequate colostrum, such as if it had a difficult birth, is a twin, is delivered via c-section, has a weak suckle reflex, or hasn’t sucked in the first few hours of life, supplementation is recommended. If a calf requires colostrum supplementation, here are a few things to consider. Continue reading

Calf 911 – New Video Demonstrates Effective Calf Resuscitation Strategies

The following is part one of a series of three posts on calving that include newborn calf management practices and intervention strategies to help producers create positive calving outcomes. Read part two for tips and tricks on colostrum and part three to learn about when and how to use electrolytes.

Calving is a natural process and most cows give birth to a healthy calf and everything goes as planned. However, there are times when things go wrong. Perhaps there is a malpresentation, such as a backwards arrival, or the calf’s foot is back. In some cases, perhaps calves do not take their first breath after a difficult labour. Here are a few tips to consider to get a calf up and going as soon as possible: Continue reading

Get ‘em out, get ‘em up, get ‘em fed, write ‘em down… Rawhide!

A version of this article, written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the January 2021 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

It’s called calving difficulty for a reason. They’re difficult to deliver, it’s difficult for the calf to survive, it’s difficult to watch it die, and it’s difficult to lose the $1,250 the calf could have sold for in fall. The Beef Cattle Research Council’s 2019 Adoption Rates of Recommended Practices by Cow-Calf Operators in Canada report indicated that around half of all preweaning death losses occur within 24 hours after birth, with a significant proportion of those attributed to calving difficulties. How you help a calf in the first few hours after a difficult birth is critical to determining whether it will survive to weaning or not.

It’s well known that providing timely calving assistance, effective calf resuscitation and colostrum are critical. But how you do these things is just as important as what you do. These calves have already been through a lot – providing the wrong kind of help can make it harder for them to survive. Sometimes doing the wrong thing is also harder for you. Continue reading

Calving Season Timing and Transition – Fast Forward, Rewind, or Press Play

For many cow-calf producers, calving season is a favourite time of year. After waiting 283 days, farmers are finally able to see the result of their breeding decisions as well as welcome a new crop of animals that will likely become a large portion of their annual revenue.

Just as every farm operates with an independent set of circumstances, and every farmer is unique themselves, calving season is going to look different on every operation. There is no one right method or time of year to calve a cow herd.

There are many interconnected variables that affect – or are affected – by calving season. Length and timing of breeding season, bull power, grazing and feed resources, target weaning time, marketing windows and methods, heifer development, mortgage payment deadlines, herd size, available labour, infrastructure, and tradition are a few different factors that play an important part in calving.

Looking at survey data over the past thirty years, there has been a trend, at least in western Canada, with producers transitioning from late winter/early spring calving in February and March, to later calving in April, May or June. Whether producers are thinking about making a shift in timing, or simply reassessing their decision to calve when they do, they should think about the risks and rewards of timing their most critical phase in cow-calf operations. What are the advantages or disadvantages of keeping the same season? What are the greatest challenges during calving on my farm and how can I manage them? What are the benefits of my existing calving season, and what are the drawbacks? How much labour do I need and how much do I have to get the job done?

The following producers have done their homework and planned ahead before shifting their seasons back or ahead in order to meet the needs of their particular farms and families. Continue reading

Top tips for a smooth calving season



The most important day of a calf’s life is the first one. There are some key factors that play a role in whether or not a baby calf gets off to a good start and research has demonstrated that the first 24 hours of life are critical in order for a calf to survive to weaning and beyond.

Interventions – follow-up care is important

Dystocia, or calving complications, pose a health risk for both the newborn calf and the cow. While dystocia can be partially managed with careful breeding choices and culling practices, proper nutrition, and managing for a body condition score of 3 (on a scale of 1-5) before calving, difficult deliveries can still occur.

Every scenario is different, however once a water bag appears, a calf should hit the ground within one hour for cows, or up to one and a half hours for a first-calf heifer. If this doesn’t happen, intervention may be needed, especially if no progress has occurred for thirty minutes, the cow stops pushing, or there are other signs of trouble. If there is a problem, a water bag may not always appear, so be observant of other behaviours that signal labour, such as tail switching, restlessness, the appearance of membranes or discharge, or a kink in the cow’s tail.

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