Bottle-fed calves may be cute, but as anyone who’s kept one can attest, they’re a nuisance – and worse, a drain on time and profits. Healthy cattle who can deliver healthy calves with minimal assistance are one key element of financial sustainability for ranches of all sizes.
Dystocia (difficult birth) causes up to 3 out of 10 lost calves between birth and weaning. It keeps calves from absorbing as much immunity-conferring colostrum during their first hours of life and reduces their growth rate, and keeps cows from returning as quickly to breeding and reduces their conception rates when they do begin to cycle again.
With all those facts in mind, avoiding difficult births is a clear winner among strategies for improving both cow and calf performance. On the cow side, good practices include developing – and using – an early-assistance protocol for calving time, culling cows with small pelvic area and/or poor udder conformation, and growing heifers out to be at 80-85% of their mature weight at the time of first calving.
Bulls can also be selected for smaller pelvic area, as well as for lower birth-weight calves. Selecting for calves that are smaller at birth may seem counter-intuitive, but as David Sparks said in a livestock workshop, “You get paid for how many total pounds of calves you wean and sell, not how many cows you have, or how big they are.”
Sparks’ presentation, “Management for Animal Health,” contains more detailed information on strategies for reducing dystocia, as does Brian Freking’s report “Heifer Management.” Both are available as free pdf downloads from the Kerr Center’s online livestock library.
from the February 2015 issue of the Kerr Center’s electronic newsletter, E-Field Notes