Season length varies Producer survey finds calving season for Canadian ranchers varies from 60 to as many as 300 days
A calf management survey from last year found common threads among beef producers but also considerable variation among herds.
Claire Windeyer of the University of Calgary’s faculty of veterinary medicine asked producers to fill out a two page survey about calving, colostrum use, castration, deworming, preconditioning challenges and suggestions for future research.
The survey also wanted to know about herd death rates and how often producers had to treat for scours and pneumonia.
“We want to correlate the management practices with the outcomes, treatment rates and death rates,” she said at a June 19-20 beef cattle conference sponsored by the faculty.
Nearly 270 cow calf producers from British Columbia to Ontario responded. Most were from Alberta, and herd sizes ranged from three to 1,700 head. The average herd size was 200.
Scours was the most common problem, and five percent said they had to treat for it. There were fewer treatments for pneumonia at three percent. Calf losses were 2.3 percent and most occurred within 24 hours of birth.
Calving seasons were variable.
Most producers said their calving season started in March and lasted 80 days. Quite a few started in February or May.
Some admitted calves were being born throughout the year.
“Some people are calving for quite some time, but the peak from April, May, June is probably what we would expect,” Windeyer said.
“The average calving season was just under 80 days and a large range from 60 out to 300 days.”
Timing of calving often depended on facilities, weather and age of calves at spring processing.
The study showed those that calved in March had to treat more often for bovine respiratory disease compared to herds calving in January and February, when it is cold and dry. March weather can be unpredictable, which could be more stressful for newborns.
Those who calved in April had less BRD and fewer deaths.
A long running calving season significantly affects calf uniformity.
“Everybody probably knows this, but when you are trying to market your calves, the more uniform they are, the better it is for your marketing.”
Long calving intervals also expose calves to more disease because manure and mud full of pathogens build up as the season drags on.
A longer season also made it harder for the last cow to catch up and be bred for the following season.
The survey also asked how calves are resuscitated.
Most producers said they put straw in the nose, rub calves vigorously and put cold water in the ear. More than half admitted to hanging calves over gates.
Windeyer said calves should never be hung upside down.
“We as a veterinary community have not passed on that message.”
The idea is to drain fluid from the lungs, but stomach fluid comes out when calves are hung upside down, which makes it harder to breathe.
The guts press down on the lungs, which squashes them when the calf is trying to inflate them.
Calves should be placed upright so both lungs can expand.
Most producers knew that colostrum is necessary at birth for health and survival because the calves are receiving antibodies, calories, minerals, vitamins and other immunity components. It also warms them up.
Most make sure the calf is sucking, and others said they looked to see if the udder was not full. Three percent said they did not check at all.
Producers who gave colostrum to assisted calves had lower death rates in the one week to weaning age range.
Most preferred to make sure the dam provided it, and many said they had frozen colostrum from their own cows available.
Some had dairy colostrum, but that is not good enough for beef cattle.
“Talk to your vet about how to check the quality of colostrum,” Windeyer said.
Not all colostrum is the same. Producers who use a replacement or supplements should read the labels to make sure the calves get the right amount and quality.
Storage can also affect quality, which declines after two hours if left on the counter rather than put in the freezer.
Seventy percent said they use elastrator bands to castrate young calves.
Seventy-five percent said they recorded birth dates and calving ease, and 65 percent said they did some form of preconditioning, such as pre-vaccinations at spring turnout. Some producers train calves to use a bunk and habituate them to human contact or provide dewormers.
Those who do not precondition said they would do it if there were economic incentives and if they had appropriate facilities and others said they wanted more proof it is effective. Others said they would do it if they retained their calves.