The Bovine Maternity Ward

With all the action that occurs during calving season, it is a great idea to have a plan to manage all these expecting mothers and new calves (Even though it sometimes falls apart). Since there are a multitude of things that can go wrong, from difficult births, to bad weather conditions, to cows not realizing which baby is theirs and trying to claim another baby, ranchers use different strategies to make appropriate interventions in the calving process when necessary. Since there are so many different ways to make calving season work, for simplicity’s sake I’ll just describe what the Geises do to make calving run as smoothly and successfully as possible.

First of all, our cattle are sorted into two groups–the heifers and the cows. A heifer is a female bovine that has not calved yet. Because these animals are new mothers, they have more difficulties with calving, as well as figuring out how to mother their calves, than the mature cows do. Because of this, we keep the heifers in the pasture next to the house to keep a close eye on them.

If a heifer or cow does have a problem, we have a calving stall in place that allows us to restrain the cow safely while we are helping her get the calf delivered. It consists of a headgate to keep the cow in one place and a side gate that swings closed to help guide her into the headgate. The side gate is broken into a top and bottom piece. This is so the top part of the gate can be swung back to allow access to the cow’s side if a c-section is necessary. In addition, the bottom part of the gate can be swung out to allow access to the cow’s udders in case you need to help a calf learn how to suck.

The calving stall in our barn

The calving stall in our barn. The cow walks into this head first and the headgate holds the cow in place.

Since it is important to know which calf goes with which cow to help with records and sorting the calves later, the calves are tagged the day after they are born. This gives each calf an ID number that we can match with the appropriate cow. Obviously since the calves are born on several different days tagging is an ongoing activity. By catching the calf to tag it, we can also inspect the calf to make sure it doesn’t have any obvious health issues, as well as castrate the bull calves before they get too big.

Once all the cows have calved, we wait until the calves are a month old to vaccinate them so they can have a healthy summer. Once this is done, the most busy part of a our cattle herd’s year is complete and we can relax a bit before things get busy again in the fall.