BEEF Daily

25+ Things To Put On Your Calving Check List



Here is a list of must-haves for a successful calving season. 

My husband Tyler and I invested in a group of bred heifers that were due to calve a month ahead of the group we keep at my dad’s place. This being our first year of calving a group out at our home place, we asked for the essentials of calving season on our Christmas wish lists. While it might seem to some like a lame Christmas present, Tyler and I were like little kids in a candy store as we opened up boxes of tags, markers, slings, scales, and the other little things one needs to have on hand when delivering baby calves.

This week, our first calves started coming in. Even though we felt organized and prepared for calving season to begin, we were still scrambling to get acclimated to a new system as we calve out cows in a different location than we normally do.


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My dad came over yesterday and helped me with a calf that was small and slow to get up, and I wasn’t surprised when he pointed out a few things we 

could rearrange and fix in our calving barn set-up. As we adjust our system and plan for the next set of babies to come in, I thought it might be handy to put together a calving-season checklist. While not every item is needed for every calf, there are always unique situations where the little things come in very handy. 



Here are the must-haves for a successful calving season: 

  • Ear tags
  • Markers
  • Tagger (and a spare)
  • Calving book for record-keeping
  • A list for when everything is due and what they are bred to
  • The veterinarian’s number on speed dial
  • Milk tuber
  • Pitcher to milk the cow with
  • Calf boost
  • Syringe
  • Scour pills
  • Bolus gun
  • Duct tape or ear muffs of some sort to pin ears down on cold nights
  • Sled with ropes to pull calves out of the snow and to the barn
  • Calf catch
  • Scale and sling for weighing the calf
  • Calf puller and chains
  • Lasso
  • Halter
  • Plastic gloves
  • Milk replacer
  • A sedative of sorts for the occasional surly cow that needs milking out
  • A list of potential culls based on poor udders, bad dispositions, tough calving, old age, etc.
  • Sorting sticks
  • Square bales for bedding and feed when the pairs are in the barn
  • Coveralls, gloves, hats, boots, long johns, wool socks, etc.
  • A hot box, heater or place in the basement bath tub for cold calves
  • Clean towels

What did I miss? What would you add or take off the list? What are your must-have items for a successful calving season? Do you have everything lined up and ready to go for calving? Share in the comments section below.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 27

on Jan 21, 2014

Great list! We give our new born calves a shot of Bo-Se at birth (but perhaps that is just a regional need here), and I might also add a soft but study cotton rope with a D ring braided in to the end. When we have to milk cows out, they get 1cc of Oxytocin, and then we gently tie a leg back with that soft rope so that they don't kick. The colostrum also stays cleaner that way. We also always have gallons of distilled water, baking soda and IV kits and a thermometer in our calving room in case we have a calf that needs IV hydration.

Good luck calving! It's a tough {season} on the ranch, but the end result is worth it. :)

Annette @ Rockeman Herefords (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2014

We band most of the bulls at calving so I would add that to the list (bander & bands). Also, sometimes the cow just does not want to claim her calf so we keep a product called "O-No-More". Do you tattoo? Need the tattooer and the ink. How about a large bottle w/nipple in case the calf will nurse but the cow needed milking? Just a few of the items we like to have around. A couple of years ago we got a small pen that we use if we have to pull a calf or milk the cow. It has a gate that swings around so the cow is penned in tight. The bottom of that gate swings away to milk or get the calf up to the udder to suckle. What did we do without that? Thank you for you article. It reminded me that I had better take inventory and get ready for our season too.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2014

A light source or headlight.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2014

We use all of the above, but use hoof tape for measuring new born calf weights.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2014

Iodine or something similar for dipping navels

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2014

do not wash coverall until done calving the more you smell like them the less trouble handling the cows. if you think you have to wash them use unscented detergent.

Sean (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2014

I'm really having a hard time believing that you are serious about this list. I was raised on a 500 cow outfit and I don't even know how to begin pulling a calf, we started using calving ease bulls 20 years ago. Also simply waiting until green grass to calve will solve 90% of the issues that you need a calving barn to deal with. What a waste of time and money! Let nature do her job.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2014

AMEN! AMEN! AMEN!! Easier on cows, calves and marriges LOL!!

W.E. (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2014

Agree with you, Sean. We also cull any female that causes trouble at calving, or avoid using that cow's progeny for anything except beef. Live and learn, young folks: Mother Nature is your boss, your best friend and advisor. When the feedlots told us when to calve, we had a long list like this, too. Now we calve between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, which works very well here in the upper south and requires much less human interference. We have a second calving season that starts September 1, a great month to calve out heifers for the first time. During gestation in cold weather, energy is driven to the cow's core, making her unborn calf bigger--and sometimes lazier. Calves come much easier in September after hot summer weather has held down birth weight, yet calves still have time to learn to graze before the dead of winter.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2014

You hit a home run with that answer! Does anyone see wildlife having babies in the middle of winter. Been there & not going back!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 26, 2014

that's why you're still behind the times easy calving kept back for cows only leads to bigger problems/smaller pelvic measurements, to needing even smaller birthweight bulls............

on Jan 22, 2014

If you calve in May/June when the weather is warmer this list gets a lot shorter.

Jim Turner (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2014

A thermos full of coffee because calving is not a 9-5 job.

Tut (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2014

You are nuts. Calve in sync with nature, when the weather is warm and the grass is green (and there is more daylight). That list completely goes away. The only thing I have when calving is a piece of paper to note which cows have calved, and I wouldn't need that. Plus, I haven't pulled a calf in 5 years, ever since I switched.

I just reread that list. A sled to pull calves out of the snow and into the barn?? Earmuffs to keep their ears from freezing off?? Have you ever considered how terrible that is to subject calves to those conditions? I calve a LOT of cows, and there is no way I could go back to doing that. Calve in sync with nature!

Dennis Hoyle (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2014

Amanda I use to do what you are doing, I enjoyed the challenge of delivering an abnormal presetation. I actually enjoyed some of the nightly trips through the cows. As many have mentioned, calving now is a waste of time, money and health. It also gives the PETA types legitimate concerns for animal welfare. There are no frozen ears in May. I would sell the cows before I would calve in winter again. Give this serious consideration for the future. It is a growing trend so there must be validity to it. If you had done this article ten years ago you would not have gotten this many responses about changing your calving date.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2014

I would just like to point out to all of the negative nellies...calving in certain times of the year is not necessarily an option for every operation. Also, for those booing anyone having to pull a calf, just because it may not be a common occurance does not mean it will never happen there is absolutely nothing wrong with being prepared for when that night may come, and I personally think to not "even know how to begin pulling a calf" is not a great quality in a rancher.

Shirley Betzner (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2014

I agree with anonymous.... about the negative comments. BEFORE you can cull that problem animal... you have to deal with whats going wrong with her. And let nature work it out? So.. if a heifer is calving, and having problems.. you just step back and do nothing?
Ok... yes, have pulling supplies, and lubrication. We needle them with selenium at birth, and put bands on the bull calves, and squirt enforce 3 for pneumonia sometimes before they get to their feet. In a small closed herd like ours.. this past summer/fall, and even now, theres been NO coughs, or snotty noses. And, they didn't require a booster at weaning.

Tut (not verified)
on Jan 23, 2014

I think that is the challenge here. There is a different way of doing things that eliminate the abnormal presentations that cause a calf to need to be pulled. I couldn't sit back and watch a cow and calf die because calving wasn't going correctly. However, by calving in nice weather, not feeding hay (especially during calving), having the correct structure in my cows, and using low birth weight bulls, those problems are eliminated. That is what we are challenging her about. Explain to me how calving in the coldest weather possible isn't as cruel to the animals as not having a calf puller handy?

Doug (not verified)
on Jan 22, 2014

You forgot your time card. That way you can clock in clock out since you are working for your cows instead of them working for you

on Jan 23, 2014

Many of you forget that in South Dakota, we can get blizzards well into May. And, if you're in the seedstock business, nobody wants to buy a June bull calf. Yes, calving in summer might be easier, but a South Dakota summer can be just as tough as a winter -- with bugs, mosquitoes, extreme heat and humidity. We calve for the market we are selling in.

I also mentioned we don't use this complete list every time, but there are always going to be unique situations where you might need an item or two on this list. It's better to be prepared than to be caught off guard.

That being said, I really enjoyed the discussion and appreciate the seasoned wisdom from many of our reader/ranchers. Thank you for participating.

Susan (not verified)
on Jan 23, 2014

the only other items I include are a bucket for warm water and Dawn/ antibacterial soap for if you have to pull a calf. and some lube in case it's a tough pull. ( get the powder, it lasts longer since you shouldn't need it but nice to have in the emergency)

Shirley Betzner (not verified)
on Jan 23, 2014

The question was articles/products stuff to do/make it easier to have handy at calving, not management practices. People can calve any time of year they want to, if they have the proper facilities to calve out cows.. and hospital pens with a heat lamp for weak/stressed calves should that need occur.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 24, 2014

I like to have a set of nose tongs, and a break away honda on my lasso. A good bucket with Ivory soap, it works as a lubricant. I fed late evening, and if a heifer did not come in to she was put in the calving pen. We cut hay the first on May, i don't need scouring calves, at that because the cow has to much milk.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 6, 2014

Members of our family always carry a nail in their coverall pocket so if we come across a newborn calf with the bag still over it's nose and can't breath, we use the nail to tear it open.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 13, 2014

I keep Probios and also NurseMate ASAP. If you have a slow sluggish calf or one that can't stand very quickly, the NurseMate is a colostrum paste and the Probios usually gets that appetite started quicker. We too are seedstock producers and also we calve to beat the excessive heat and drought that we are sure to get each summer which means calving in Feb. Calving in heat just means flies on the cow's ass and bothering the calf. Heat makes the calf not want to get up to nurse. Calving in the wet, brings on scours. Mother Nature deals out problems no matter the season. And as far as not feeding hay, during calving season, I suppose only cubes/cake/grain, well that isn't good on the rumen. Everybody has an opinion and a set way of doing things but it never hurts to look at how others do it. I also like to keep some banamine and antibiotics for pain and infection if I did any pulling and plastic ob gloves protect the cows insides. It never hurts to have 2 pullers on hand as I once had a freak deal where one jammed after getting bent slightly as the cow went down during pulling. An ob snare for goats or sows have come in handy more than once too. You can never be too prepared. There is always one more thing you should have had.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 15, 2014
on Mar 24, 2016

I would have to agree with the people that are in love with later calving. Our ranch has went to this system and really like it. The one thing that bothers me with some of the comments is that I get the impression that some you are advocating you do not even need to watch your cows with this system. One of Murphy's laws says what can go wrong generally does. Surely, no believes that unusual presentations and other difficulties are not going to present themselves with any calving system. All I am saying is hope is I hope we are not just sitting back hoping our animals can just take care of themselves. I believe God made us caretakers of our animals and we should be doing that job everyday.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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