by Rachel Cutrer
Whether you calve out 1 or 1000 head a year, anytime a new calf is born on the ranch makes for an exciting day. It is very important to give each calf on the ranch a great foundation. Here is our management protocol for newborn Brahman calves.
As soon as the calf is born, you want to make sure it is alive and breathing. You will mainly just need to make sure the mother has licked the sack off it’s face so that it can breathe freely.
Initially, you want to give both the cow and the calf some space. This allows the mother to lick off the calf, and bond with the calf.
Nursing / Calf Vigor
Ideally, after a few moments after the mother licking off the calf and bonding, the calf will start to try to get up and nurse. The sooner, the better. A more vigorous calf is more desirable than one who just lays there and does nothing.
You’ll want to make sure the calf has got up and nursed within ___ hours of birth. This gives the calf the much-needed colostrum milk to get it going.
If you have problems:
You will need to get the cow to a chute to help the calf nurse. Be gentle and easy on the cow and calf as much as possible to create a stress free situation. If you have to get the calf up from laying position, tail the calf up. Don’t pick it up by the ears or make the calf mad. Help assist the calf to get up as easy as possible and try to get the cow’s teat in its mouth until it can nurse freely on it’s own.
Identification & Weighing
We also like to try to weigh each calf within 24 hours of birth, and give it an ear tag for identification. We use calf tapes to record birth weights. We usually apply the ear tag and take the birthweight at the same time.
If you notice you are having problems in your herd with low calf vigor, and/or having to nurse a lot of calves, the problem often starts within your herd. Sometimes this is a sad realization to come to, but both of these problems are often genetic related.
High calf vigor (and conversely low calf vigor) are highly heritable. It is important that you select for bulls that consistently sire calves that get up and nurse quickly. And, alternatively, select against dummy calves.
Here at BRC we take a calf vigor score on every calf born, and track this to both the sire and dam.
Sometimes weather can play a role in calf vigor too though, especially in Brahmans that may be calving in cold or rainy conditions. For this reason, we try to avoid calving in February altogether. Because it just makes it too harsh on the new baby. Also, this is typically the worst month for cold weather and rain in our area. This may vary from region to region so use your judgement of what month is the “worst” month in your area.
Here are some good links to other resources:
Merck Veterinary Manual: Newborn Calf Management
You also might enjoy our Brahman Academy, an online virtual training course about Brahman cattle.