hereford cow licking her newborn calf

Whether you have one cow, 10 cows or 100 cows,being prepared for calving is essential and this preparation includes putting together a calving kit.

Hopefully, you won’t ever need it, most calvings occur without any problems. However any cow, regardless of age or breed, can suffer from calving difficulties or metabolic conditions post-calving. The calf itself may need assistance if it is not thriving, or it is born in less than ideal weather conditions.

In this article, we will look at what is needed for a calving kit, so that should problems arise, anything you need is on hand and you’re not forced into an emergency trip to the nearest supplier.

To avoid calving issues, it’s best to get the environment for the cow organised well in advance.

First off is a well-sheltered paddock, preferably one that drains well and has good fences. Avoid paddocks with ditches - a heavily pregnant cow can easily roll into a ditch and become cast. For the same reason it’s best to avoid steep paddocks.

A good feed supply in the form of good pasture is best to meet the demands of lactation, but if pasture hasn’t been saved, high quality supplementary feed will be needed.

Yards are important in an emergency. They should be accessible from the calving paddock and a head bail may be necessary if the cow needs to be restrained.

A shed is useful if either cow or calf needs some TLC and even having an open-sided shelter available will be beneficial.

Once the environment is sorted, we can look at our calving kit.

Lube - you will need this if you have to assist a cow during calving, or to carry out an internal check to see if the calf is correctly oriented. You’ll want to get the large bottles of obstetric lube - nothing smaller than 2 litres as if you need it, you’ll want to use a lot!

Disposable gloves - Shoulder length gloves are ideal and can be purchased from your local vet or stock firm. Failing that, any rubber or strong plastic gloves will work.

Buckets - have a couple of buckets set aside for hot water and disinfectant in case a cow needs your assistance.

Disinfectant - If you are using chains or ropes to pull a calf out, these need to be disinfected. You will also want to disinfect your hands before any assisted calving.

Chains - If you feel confident, calving chains can be used to help a calf out. If you’ve never used them, call an experienced person or a vet to show you how to use them safely.

Ropes - Have strong soft ropes on hand for pulling a calf or to roll a cow over if needed. Again, if you’ve never used them, talk to an experienced person or a vet.

Iodine - For spraying the calf's navel.

Tube calf feeder - This plastic tube feeder can be used to get milk straight into the calf’s stomach. This may be necessary if the calf is too weak to suckle. The tube is usually rigid, unlike lamb tube feeders.

A cover that can be put on a cow or calf can be very useful if trying to bring a body temperature back up due to hypothermia.

Calf feeding bottle with teat - very useful in the case of sudden death of the cow.

Powdered colostrum or frozen colostrum from a dairy farm - if a calf loses its mother, it will need colostrum, so having some on standby in the form of a powder that can be mixed with water to reconstitute or having some from a cow frozen can be a life saver.

Cloths - old towels are useful to mop up messes, dry your gloves, and hold onto slippery front legs when assisting.

Antibiotics - antibiotics are useful to have on hand for situations like a retained afterbirth, mastitis, or some other form of infection in either the cow or calf. If anything, including gloved hands, has been inserted into the cow then the cow should be given an antibiotic. A consultation with a vet is usually needed before antibiotics are dispensed to have on standby.

Pain relief - talk to your vet before calving about the possibility of getting something to give to cows after a difficult birth.

To address metabolic disorders in the cow the following (but not necessarily all) are good to have at the ready:

CBG 37.5 or Calcium Borogluconate. This comes in 500 ml or 1 litre plastic bags with a giving set - needle and tubing. It is straight calcium and used for milk fever. It can go under the skin, but may be slow to act this way. The quickest way to get a cow recovering is to give the CBG into the vein. This should be done by a vet or someone who is experienced in giving intravenous fluids. Milk fever usually occurs a few hours after calving.

Magnesium Sulphate 20%. It is usually used if a cow has staggers which can occur six-to-seven weeks post calving. Staggers are caused by a magnesium deficiency. This needs to be given under the skin, not intravenously. Another way of addressing magnesium deficiency is by dusting paddocks with magnesium oxide powder.

Glucalmag - A combination of calcium and magnesium and best given under the skin.

Glucalmax - This is a triple combination of calcium, magnesium and glucose and preferably should be given under the skin.

Ketol - Ketol is a liquid that is given as a drench for cows with ketosis which can occur two to eight weeks after calving. It restores blood sugar levels.

These are all available through your local stock firm or vet clinic.

Last, but not least, it is handy to have your vet clinic phone number saved in your phone and/or written somewhere in a prominent place for use in the event of an emergency.

Having a good calving kit ready to go can reduce stress significantly. Hopefully it won’t be needed, but if it is, it is great to be able to deal with any situation should it arise.

For in-depth advice on breeding cattle from mating until weaning check out our Cattle Breeding course.