Prior to calving season, do a walk-through of your calving setup. This includes the calving barn, pens for assisting problem births and potential shelter during inclement weather.

“Make sure you have proper restraint — a head catch or place to tie a cow, a halter and rope — and good lighting,” Callan says. You don’t want to have to depend on flashlights in the middle of the night.

He says it’s also wise to pressure-wash or steam-clean every hard surface in calving facilities; and strip out the base of barns or stalls, and throw in some new dirt or lime. Have fresh bedding on hand in a convenient location, too, Callan says. 

“Make sure your calf chains or straps are clean and handy. The calf puller should be cleaned up, and within easy reach in the barn/calving stall. Be sure to check for rust or damage, and address any problem before you need it. A halter and rope can also be useful. A long, soft cotton rope for casting a cow for easier delivery (after correcting a malpresentation) is good to have on hand,” he says.

A calf or lamb nipple and bottle are handy if you need to feed colostrum. A nasogastric tube and funnel, or an esophageal probe feeder should also be part of your equipment.

“Check the tubes you used last year and replace old, stiff or dirty ones. An old tube can crack if the plastic goes bad over summer. You don’t want to discover you need a new one in the middle of the night,” Callan says.

It’s all about being prepared, he says. It can make life much easier and potentially save a calf.

Pasture management for pairs

Another important planning aspect for calving is where you’ll put calving cows and cow-calf pairs. Robert Callan, associate professor at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science, says the Sandhills Calving System is a proven system for decreasing scours and other infectious diseases.

“This system takes advantage of multiple calving areas to reduce buildup and transmission of pathogens from older calves to younger calves. One pasture area is used for calving at the start of calving season. After that, the animals that have not yet calved are moved to a new pasture every 1-2 weeks, depending on herd size and pasture availability. The cow-calf pairs already on the ground stay in the pasture they calved in,” Callan explains.

“If you don’t have a multiple-pasture setup, you might put up temporary electric fencing to divide pastures so it will work when the cows start calving. But don’t wait until the ground freezes if you plan to build some new fences,” he says.