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MAKE CALVING DIFFICULTY A THING OF THE PAST

ll-pre-calver-article2.jpgFigures suggest that for every calf lost at or after calving, then breeding herds are missing out on a substantial £636 in calf output which has a significant negative effect on the overall bottom line of any business.

Rumenco Technical Adviser, Laura Drury, discusses how to make this autumn’s calving season a profitable one by making simple, small changes to the cow’s diet in the run up to calving. 

Calving difficulty continues to be the main cause of calf losses in the cattle industry with data showing that calf losses within the first 24 hours are four times greater following an assisted calving compared to unassisted.  

It is without doubt that a difficult calving has a negative financial impact in any cattle enterprise – from delayed return to breeding in the dam, through to death in the calf, then these costs are very real and damaging to profitability, yet commonly avoidable. 

Labour and veterinary costs make up a substantial amount of the cost of assisted calvings, yet these are only the tip of the iceberg – cow and calf deaths, delayed rebreeding, failure to rebreed, reduced immunity in calves and general lack of thrift – these are some of the things linked directly to difficult calvings which aside from the direct costs of lost calves can still be costing up to £300 per cow per incidence.

But how does a difficult calving increase calf mortality? Firstly, the calf is more susceptible to infectious diseases reflected by higher incidence of scouring and respiratory disease. Secondly, the calf is less able to regulate its own body temperature making it more susceptible to hypothermia, and thirdly, antibody absorption from colostrum is decreased.

Colostrum quality and quantity for newborn calves lays the foundations for the rest of the animals’ life but recent data from The University of Calgary has shown a link between difficult calving (dystocia) score and the percentage of calves which failed to then ingest colostrum (lack of suckling) within 4 hours of birth.  

Ensuring dry cows aren’t over or underfed pre-calving is one area producers can have a direct impact on calving ease, and also subsequent colostrum production. Overfed, and over-conditioned cows have greater risk of difficult calving, yet underfeeding can lead to poor thrift in calves and poor colostrum quantity and quality.  

Supplying balanced minerals and vitamins also directly influences both cow and calf outcomes at calving. Magnesium is key for muscle tone for strong calving contractions; ideal for a quick and easy calving, especially important in first-calving heifers which typically present the biggest problem in terms of calving difficulty. 

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Other minerals should not be over-looked as calving approaches in order to help ensure good herd health and performance. For example, selenium and vitamin E, through their role in immunity, have been shown to support thrift in the newborn calf whilst also aiding in the management of retained placentas and mastitis in the dam.

Pre-calving feeding also impacts performance post-calving. In order to support a quick return to oestrus activity (bulling) then supplementation of copper is important. In suckler herds, the abundance of forage in the diet can lead to complications where copper is less available, and even ‘locked up’, so the use of multiple sources of copper aids the availability of any copper being offered.

Rumenco LIFELINE Pre-Calver bucket helps ensure all of these aspects are covered – specifically formulated to include an optimal supply of these key minerals and vitamins, plus other nutritional additives, it is targeted for feeding during the final 6 weeks before calving.

As well as aiding in an easier calving and the production of vigorous calves, LIFELINE Pre-Calver has also been proven to increase colostrum quality, making it a specialist, unique pre-calving supplement to forage-based rations.