Preparing for Spring Calving

Barry Whitworth, DVM Area Food/Animal Quality and Health Specialist for Eastern Oklahoma

On many beef cattle operations, the month of February is the beginning of the calving season. In the United States, nearly 60% of beef calves are born in the months of February, March, and April (USDA, 2009). January is the time for cattle producers to prepare for the spring calving season. Facilities and calving equipment need to be evaluated. An inventory of supplies should be done. The calving protocol should be reviewed and updated if necessary. If a cattle producer does not have a protocol, one should be developed with the aid of their veterinarian.   

Facilities are an important part of any cattle operation. Routine maintenance is required to keep the squeeze chute, alley ways, and gates in good working order. Producers do not want problems with facilities when they are trying to get a distressed heifer down the alley and into the chute. In addition to working facilities, barns and pens need to be clean and dry for those newborn calves. Calves forced to live in moist fecal contaminated areas are more prone to disease issues.

Producers not only need to have the proper obstetric (OB) equipment available to assist cows and heifers with difficult births, but they also need to know how to properly use it. Improper use can result in trauma to the calf and/or cow. Obstetric equipment is designed to ease the delivery of calf during a difficult birth. Calf jacks or pullers, OB chains, OB handles, and head stares need to be clean, sterile, and in good working order. This equipment should be stored in a clean area that is easily accessible. Having to hunt for OB equipment when time is critical can have deadly results. When used properly, calving equipment makes the job easier and will not harm the newborn calf.  

Part of being prepared means anticipating what supplies will be needed in birthing problems and having them on hand. Some form of a disinfectant will be needed to clean and sterilize OB chains, OB handles, and head stares. OB lube will be important to lubricate the birth canal. OB sleeves will protect the producer from contact with germs or bacteria that may be in the birth canal and may protect the cow from being contaminated from the producer. Iodine will be needed for dipping the navel to aid in disease prevention. The most important supply to have on hand is a source of high-quality colostrum in case the cow or heifer runs off or is not producing enough colostrum. Colostrum is vital to the health and wellbeing of a newborn calf.

An often-overlooked item in the birthing toolbox is a well written treatment protocol. A treatment protocol will aid in deciding when to intervene in difficult births. Producers should develop the protocol before they are in the middle of a stressful difficult birth so that they don’t second guess themselves. Make sure that the protocol is easy to read and understand for all parties that may have to assist in the birthing process. A producer should involve his/her local veterinarian in the writing of this document. The veterinarian can help to advise when he or she should be contacted during a difficult birth. By including your veterinarian in writing the protocol, he or she will likely be more willing to help in an after-hour emergency.

Dystocia or calving troubles need to be dealt with in a timely manner. Delays in dealing with calving difficulties may increase death loss. In beef cattle operations in the United States, calving problems account for around 25% of beef calf losses in calves less than 3 weeks of age (USDA, 2010). In a retrospective study at Purdue University on beef cows undergoing a cesarean section, mortality rate was higher for calves from dams in labor for more than 3 hours (Hiew et al.,2018). Fortunately, calving problems are relatively rare. Still, producers need to be prepared to deal with any problems that they might encounter. For more information about calving time management, producers should contact their local veterinarian or read OSU Fact Sheet E-1006, Calving Time Management for Beef Cows and Heifers written by Glenn Self and Dave Sparks, DVM. A copy of this manual can be found at or the local Oklahoma State University County Extension office.

I hope that you do not have any problems this spring with your cows and heifers but be prepared in case of an emergency!


USDA. 2009. Beef 2007-08, Part II: Reference of Beef Cow-calf Management Practices in the United States, 2007-08 USDA:APHIS:VS, CEAH. Fort Collins, CO

USDA. 2010. Beef 2007–08, Part IV: Reference of Beef Cow-calf Management Practices in the United States, 2007–08. USDA:APHIS:VS, CEAH. Fort Collins, CO

Hiew, M.W.H., A.N. Baird and P.D. Constable. 2018. Clinical signs and outcomes of beef cattle undergoing cesarean section because of dystocia. American Veterinary Journal of Medicine. Vol. 252: pp 864-872.