LIVESTOCK COLUMN: What’s in your toolbox for fall calving?

Published 1:35 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2023

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If they aren’t already, fall calves will be dropping soon, so it’s a good time to evaluate what’s in your “calving toolbox.”

Katelyn Stegall

While hopefully you won’t need most of these things, meaning a smooth calving season, it’s always a good idea to be prepared just in case.

We’ll start with what you need on hand in general, not for emergencies:

• Ear tags and a tagger for record-keeping. It is better to have these ready to go when you get the opportunity to catch the calf than to have to make a trip back to the barn or truck or house and potentially miss a tagging opportunity.

• Iodine or another disinfectant. You’ll want this on hand for dipping the calf’s navel after birth. This is also good to have available in the event of an emergency that may result in infection if the field is not kept clean.

• A flashlight. Critical to those late-night calf checks, an actual flashlight can prove to be much more useful than a phone light.

• An actual toolbox. A cheap toolbox can help you keep all of these things organized and in place so you know exactly where to reach for them when you need them.

Now for some emergency equipment to keep on hand:

• A rope halter. Especially if you are having trouble getting a cow up to the barn, a rope halter is great to have on hand in the event you need to restrain an animal.

• OB sleeves. Any time you are assisting with calving or just checking progress, OB sleeves should be worn to prevent health issues for the cow, and to protect yourself.

• Veterinary OB lubricant. This can be purchased at your local feed store.

• Clean towels or paper towels. You need a clean and relatively sterile way to clean up any messes.

• OB chains. These are the best/safest options for pulling a calf should the need arise.

If you are uncomfortable assisting in any way, or think the emergency is more than you feel comfortable handling, never do anything that may get you, the cow, or the calf injured.

It may be a good idea to keep a business card from your veterinarian in your toolbox as well.

You may want to tape it to the inside of the lid or secure it some other way. While we tend to keep information literally at our fingertips now (i.e. the vets number stored in our phones), you never know when you may lose internet connectivity, or leave your phone lying in the truck seat and need to borrow a buddy’s. It’s a good idea to have your vet’s contact information written down and in your box.

Most importantly, keep in mind that if you are not comfortable assisting with calving, don’t do it. You run the risk of hurting yourself, the calf or the cow. When emergencies happen, go ahead and call the vet early. Don’t wait until you’ve worked on the cow for two hours and she still isn’t progressing, you want to give the vet plenty of time to get to the farm and assess the situation.

While most of these things seem common sense, it is never a bad idea to have a refresher, and double-check behind yourself to make sure you have everything you need.

Happy calving!

Katelyn Stegall is the agriculture/livestock extension agent for the Stanly County Center of N.C. Cooperative Extension. Call 704-983-3987.