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5 Tips for Winter Calving

5 Tips for Winter Calving

Winter calving can be a long and demanding season on every farm and ranch. To help you prepare, here are 5 tips from Ralco’s ruminant nutritionists to have a healthy and prosperous calving season.

1. Maintain Body Condition Scores

The first step to a profitable calving season is a healthy cow. Poor body condition scores (BCS), also known as a cow’s available energy reserves, can be associated with increased open days, weak calves at birth, low quality and quantity of colostrum, reduced milk production, increased dystocia and lower weaning weights. Cows should maintain a BCS of at least 5 at calving to prevent these challenges.

2. Prepare Facilities

It’s critical to provide shelter and proper bedding during winter months. Windbreaks can help protect cows and calves from the cold. If possible before calving, shelter and bed the cows. Bedding will encourage the cow to lay down and provide an insulated break from the frozen ground for the newborn calf. As for bedding options, straw is the better choice. Sawdust and other shavings can stick to the calf. Straw bedding can also help reduce frozen ears, tails and feet. It’s recommended to keep the straw deep enough to cover the calf’s legs when they are lying down.

3. Develop a Solid Nutrition Plan

Providing balanced nutrition to cows before and after calving is critical. Particularly, the nutrition of the cow in the last 1.5 months of gestation. Poor nutrition at this point reduces calf vigor, health and performance. A major reason for this is poor colostrum quality from the cow, as well as the calf's inability to get up and drink. Additionally, nutrient deficiencies of macro and micronutrients have been linked to poor colostrum production. For best results, consult with a ruminant nutritionist to ensure your cows are receiving balanced diets with proper mineral supplementation.

4. Gather Supplies

Every rancher’s calving toolbox is different but incredibly important to save newborns in times of distress. Most calving toolboxes include:

  • Disinfectant

  • Gloves

  • OB lubricant and calving chains for dystocia or birth challenges

  • Pail for warm water, paper towels, calf jackets or other calf warmers

  • Colostrum with bottle and nipples or feeding tubes

  • The basics like tags, notebook and pencil for recording calf information

Oral bioactive drenches can help get weak calves nursing by stimulating their appetite and providing them with the energy they require to stand. Remember, calves lose 50% of their ability to absorb colostrum from milk by 12 hours old. The quicker they stand, the better.

Related: Start Strong for Calves oral drench helps increase calf energy and colostrum intake.

5. Prepare Treatments

Scours is the primary cause of death to calves in the first 30 days after birth. It’s important to keep the basics on hand when scours threaten the lives of newborn calves. The highest priority for a scouring calf is to replenish water and electrolytes they’ve lost by orally tubing them or intravenous administration. Always consult with a veterinarian for assistance. Electrolytes are critical as well as getting calves to a shelter or warm location, preferably away from other healthy cows and calves. This will alleviate the cold stress calves can face on top of scours.

To learn more about winter calving tips and Ralco’s product solutions, contact ruminant specialist Dr. Jeff Hill at 507-337-6916 or email

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