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Calving Time Reflections

By Dr. Jay Bobb

I think over the last thirty years that I have been in Veterinary practice there have been significant changes for the better in the beef cattle industry.   There is no doubt that both the purebred and commercial cow calf producer have faced numerous challenges and found solutions to improve both the welfare and health of their herds.

Genetics:  When I graduated from Veterinary school, we were right in the middle of “exotic” cattle sires that were to produce larger stronger calves.  The industry faced a large number of calving problems due to lack of selection for birth weight and even calf newborn vigor.  The purebred industry responded with increased pressure on calving ease bulls and over a period of years the occurrence of calving difficulties is almost nonexistent.    Another factor has been the selection of milking ability and mothering ability.  The selection of calving ease combined with milking ability in the dam has led to larger than ever survival rates and growth rates that were thought unattainable.   In the future, I expect the genetic gains to be even greater and more predictable due to genetic mapping and gene selection.

Nutrition:  Every veterinarian and producer in the country should be thankful to the individual that figured out feeding late in the evening produced 80% of the calves born during daylight hours.  This was a major change to my lifestyle, early on in my career you could count on being called out between 11 O’clock and midnight just about every night.   The feed companies and industry magazines have done a great job in educating producers on proper condition scoring of the heifer and mature cow herd prior to calving.   This results in easier calving and more milk production.   Most producers can tell you what level of mega cal rations that their herd is on and how many pounds they feed per head, this was a rare occurrence thirty years ago.  The use of scales on feed wagons and balanced Total Mixed Rations have helped fine tune the nutrient requirements of the herd.

Health:   The number of companies that supply health products to the beef industry has shrunk over the years due to mergers and acquisitions.  The level of products available and quality of these products is the best it has ever been.   Producers have become more invested in understanding every aspect of their herd health; they are more sophisticated in their questions and expect more from the feed man and the local veterinarian.   Products for the newborn calf to help control scours and pneumonia that are widely used are well developed and researched.    We have the best “tool box” of antibiotics and vaccines that have been available in the history of the industry thanks to scientist and manufacturing companies.   Every producer should challenge their source of information to keep refining their program.

Gadgets:  I like this category and two things that come to the top of the list are wireless barn cameras and warming hutches.   These are both pretty nifty inventions especially when you raise cattle in the northern plains.   The barn camera has allowed the producer to keep an eye on the barn and close up pen without putting on three layers of Carhart coveralls and braving the trip to the barn.   The warming hutch has helped save many a calf that was born in a cold damp environment.   The combination of warming a calf up and tube feeding once it is able to swallow with colostrum has saved calves on every farm that use the practice.

The beef industry is constantly evolving and adapting.  We are blessed to be able to make a living doing what we enjoy, and also believe in.   I am sure that the generation will bring even more challenges and change to our industry, but they will meet the challenges and make improvements just like their parents did.

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