Management practices to implement this season to get a healthy calf crop next spring

The actions producers take now can create an environment designed to produce a thriving calf crop in the future. A healthy calf crop holds a couple of meanings. On one hand, a healthy calf crop could be defined as one that is free of disease. On the other hand, producers may also consider a healthy calf crop as one that is financially prosperous. 

Livestock extension specialists say a healthy calf crop includes physical well-being as well as financial success. “A healthy calf crop is a combination of both (free of disease and prosperous), and a good economic indicator of the combined effect is considering pounds weaned per cow exposed for breeding. This indicator encompasses reproductive soundness and the effects of calf morbidity and pre- and post-natal mortality on total weaning weight,” Shane Gadberry, professor and extension specialist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, said. 

Begins with the Bull

One of the first steps to ensuring a healthy calf crop in the future starts with the bull. Producers are encouraged to setup a time for their herd veterinarians to conduct breeding soundness exams (BSEs) on their bulls prior to the start of breeding season. 

“We actually had a bull fail a breeding soundness exam twice this past fall at the livestock research station,” Gadberry stated. “We tested the bull 60 days apart, so we know that bull was going to produce zero offspring.” 

Conducting BSEs prior to breeding season gives producers time to find replacement herd bulls before breeding season begins. The practice of conducting regular BSEs helps to keep an operation’s breeding schedule on track. 

Health Maintenance

Additionally, taking steps to make sure the herd is in good overall health will create an environment conducive for producing and raising healthy calves. For example, producers may want to consider culling cows in their herd with bad udders. 

Another consideration is a cow’s body condition. “Make sure cows are in positive energy balance for breeding, especially those that have come out of winter on the thin side,” Gadberry added.

There are some producers who operate with a controlled breeding and calving season who may want to administer reproductive related vaccines prior to breeding. Some producers may also need to give a scour vaccine ahead of calving if scours have been an issue in the past. “Deworming cows just ahead of calving may also be helpful if cows haven’t been dewormed in a while and may be carrying a heavy internal parasite load,” Gadberry suggested. 


Livestock extension specialists encourage producers to get a jumpstart on needed supplies and equipment before calving season arrives. “One thing we’ve put on our calendar at the livestock research station ahead of calving is to review the Beef Quality Assurance Cattle Care Tool Kit checklist. This helps us make sure we will have everything in place for calving and any supplies replenished such as colostrum replacement,” Gadberry said.

Last but not least, producers should consult their veterinarian about calfhood vaccination options and timing, especially if there have been instances in their herd of early-life respiratory disease or clostridium diseases. 


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