Prepare for an uncomplicated calving

by David McCartney

Spring calving cows have generally come inside in good condition this year, although some cows which were out for longer than planned are just lacking a little body condition due to the wet weather. Before we know it, calving time will be upon us and it is well recognised a cow or heifer which has a bad calving is slower to repair herself, will milk less, her calf will do poorer (if it survives) and she’s less likely to calve down again within the year. Therefore, there’s no better time to consider how this calving could be made a little easier and to start planning for next season too.

Body condition and feeding

Most cows will now be housed and split by body condition and age. Heifers, second calvers, leaner cows and any carrying twins are best penned and fed separately. If outwintering is an option, consider housing vulnerable cows and utilise outwintering on the older, fitter cows which benefit from improved muscle tone from extra exercise.

This season’s silages have been variable, so I would recommend getting an analysis done, to understand the dry matter, energy and protein which will be available to cows. This allows dry cow rations to be formulated to hit maintenance requirements. It’s then important to check cows eat the recommended amount. If cows eat less, they may not consume enough energy to meet demand and be at risk of negative energy balance. If they eat more, over-supply of protein and energy may lead to body condition gain, big calves and calving problems.

The final recommendation for feeding suckler cows, is to supply some by-pass protein four weeks before calving. This helps boost colostrum quality, improve calf immunity and get them off to the best start. This could be simple like 200g per day of Ruminant Greengold, which is a little investment for a lifetime of reward.

Health always matters

It’s also a good time of year to take advantage of a conversation with your vet. After housing is an ideal time to consider testing dung to check if fluke and/or worm treatment is required. There is also the opportunity to get vaccinations up to date, to allow the immunity to be passed to the calf through the colostrum.

Pelvic measurements help

I often speak to customers about measuring the pelvis size of their heifers and those who have been doing it for a few years are starting to reap the rewards, with less heifers having to be helped to calve. Anecdotal tales of keeping the odd heifer with a borderline measurement usually end up with a poorer calving. Having the vet put their hand in all the heifers before bulling also helps to get rid of any free-martins or other issues which otherwise wouldn’t be picked up until scanning time. There’s not much now we could do about cows due in the spring, but something to consider when selecting bulling heifers in the coming months.


Whilst it is desirable to have a cow which shows strong maternal instincts, there is a fine line between motherly and dangerous for working with. There has also been shown a strong correlation between temperament and fertility, with more flighty cows less likely to stick to the golden 365 day calving interval.

Mineral supplementation

To supplement suckler cows with a vitamin and mineral package to look after the cow and also influence the calf in early life to get it off to the best possible start, it would be fair to budget £30-35 per cow for the year. If we consider it could cost up to £800 to keep a suckler cow for a year, this is a small portion of the total cost and so is worth investing in quality products.

The Harbro two step suckler cow mineral programme is designed to meet the needs of cows depending on the current stage of production:

  • Working Suckler as a powdered mineral to feed from housing until 6 weeks before calving. A cost effective mineral pack to maintain cows through the winter and fully utilise high forage/roughage diets
  • Super Suckler SEC is a powdered mineral, mineral lick or as cow rolls which is fed from 6 weeks pre-calving, through calving, to bulling and then throughout the summer while grazing. A high specification, market leading mineral pack designed to further boost cow mineral levels.

Key focus of the Harbro suckler cow minerals is on:

  • Supporting immunity through supplying selenium in an organic form like Sel-plex, which is absorbed into the body as though it’s a protein, meaning it gets into colostrum and milk to help newborns keep warm, boost the immune system and get calves off to a good start.
  • Looking after the long-term health of the cow, her pregnancy and the calf on the ground by having the right level of vitamin E and antioxidants, along with all the essential macro minerals such as magnesium and calcium to avoid grass staggers, slow calvings and retained cleansings.
  • Boosting fertility in a range of ways, including the right level of copper and from a source which has a positive impact on rumen health and is not affected by molybdenum (which can lock up copper on some farms).

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