7 Tips to Remember This Calving Season

Calving can be an exciting but challenging time. Luckily, there are some key actions you can take to set yourself — and your calves — up for success. Whether you are in the middle of calving season, or planning for the next, the BCRC has several helpful calving resources.

Here are seven tips to remember this calving season:

1. Do not hang calves upside down if they need help breathing.
Never hang calves upside down if they need help breathing
If a newborn calf requires resuscitation, put them in the calf recovery position, poke a clean straw in their nose, dribble a few drops of water in their ear or rub them vigorously. Hanging calves upside down actually makes it more difficult for the calf to start breathing. Fluid that drains from a calf that is hung upside down mostly comes from the stomach, not the lungs, and gravity will make it more difficult for the lungs to expand. See a demonstration in this short video: Continue reading

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

Feeding Decisions Are Important Breeding Decisions

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

When life gets really stressful it can be hard to remember what you already know. This column probably won’t tell you anything new, but it might remind you of some important principles that can get overlooked in the scramble to buy feed and make important financial decisions.
Black Angus cattle eating hay as winter feed
Winter feed costs are a key financial make-or-break factor for cow-calf producers, especially this winter. Weaned calf sales bear most of the responsibility for offsetting those winter feed costs, so reproductive performance is another financial make-or-break factor. The most profitable cows are those that wean a calf every year for the greatest number of years.

The big challenge is that feed costs and reproductive performance are inseparable. Drastic measures to minimize per head feed costs usually have a negative impact on reproductive performance. Maximizing reproductive performance can increase feed costs significantly. But there can be some room to move in the middle. Maintaining or even improving reproductive performance can often be achieved by carefully managing the feed you have to maintain optimal body condition scores. This may mean spending money differently, not necessarily more of it, and will help maintain or improve reproductive performance. 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

Proper management key to minimize risk of calf scours

Get cow-calf pairs out onto clean ground, such as fresh pasture, and give them as much space as possible. That’s how Ryan McCarron sidestepped a calf scours outbreak on his eastern Nova Scotia farm in 2019.

 McCarron, who farms with family members at Antigonish, about 160 km northeast of Halifax, became alarmed when a few calves became sick and died early in the 2019 spring calving season.

“It was a frustrating situation,” says McCarron. “Calves were getting sick, we treated them but several still died. Something had to change.”

Necropsy examinations showed the dead calves had picked up a harmful strain of E. coli bacteria, likely from fecal contamination of the soil in the yard next to the barn, which led to the serious and fatal cases of scours. 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.

Continue reading