Step 1 in successful rearing:

Natal care in great detail!

Natal care in great detail

How many calves have you delivered by now? Possibly hundreds? Has the calving process become routine? You will probably answer No. Each birth is unique after all, and requires your undivided attention for the cow and calf. Does your method still meet all the conditions for good natal care and hygiene? Compare it with the protocol, for the first successful step in the rearing process.

1.  Calving pen   

  • When designing the calving barn, think in terms of convenience for yourself and comfort and hygiene for the cow and calf.
  • The standard for the number of calving pens is 3% of the total number of dairy cattle, for example 3 pens per 100 cows.
  • The guideline for the pen size is 8 to 20 m2.
  • Make sure the cow is easy to monitor.
  • The pen must be accessible with a tractor or loader. This allows for easy moving of a sick cow if necessary and for cleaning out the calving pen.
  • Avoid stress! The cow will calve more easily if she retains contact with the rest of the group. If the calving pen is completely secluded, move the cow to the calving pen a few days before calving, so that she can get used to it.

Video: The calving pen at Hoving dairy farm


2. Calving pen hygiene

  • Good ventilation and a fresh atmosphere are essential.
  • The calving pen must be dry, clean and disinfected, with a fresh layer of straw.
  • Put on clean clothes and clean boots before entering the pen. 
  • Ensure fresh and clean drinking water and a good supply of feed ration.

3. Cleaning rear of cow

  • Calving always entails the risk of infection. Put hygiene first.
  • Start by thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting the rear of the cow.
  • This prevents infection of the calf, but also discharge and infection of the uterus, and retention of the placenta.
  • Be sure to also disinfect any equipment, for the same reason.

4. Birth of calf

  • Once the calf is born, check if it is breathing.
  • If it is breathing properly, remove the calf from the cow immediately. This minimises the risk of infection via manure (including Para TBC), especially if the farm health status is not optimum.
  • If you prefer to have the cow lick the calf dry, lay the calf in front of the cow, preferably separated by a feed rack. Whatever the situation, avoid the risk of the calf ingesting manure as much as possible.

5. Rubbing the calf dry

  • Rub the calf vigorously with straw to dry it.
  • This promotes the breathing process and blood circulation, which helps the calf stand more quickly. Most calves are on their feet within 60 to 90 minutes after birth.
  • Rubbing them dry also stimulates initial evacuation of faeces and urine, and helps prevent them cooling

6. Disinfection of navel

  • Disinfect the navel with iodine tincture (in a 10% iodine solution).
  • Make sure your hands are clean and do not pour any iodine tincture in the navel!

 7. Individual pen/igloo

  • House the calf in a well-cleaned and disinfected individual pen or igloo containing clean straw.
  • Mobile pens are easier to spray clean.
  • Make sure you have plenty of individual pens versus the number of calves, so that the pens can stand empty for a while. This ensures optimum hygiene.

8. Colostrum within 1 hour

  • Within an hour after birth, feed the calf 4 litres of controlled quality colostrum.
  • The calf is generally alert enough to drink from a teat bottle shortly after birth.
  • See the Sprayfo colostrum protocol for the first colostrum feeding.

9. Rinsing of rear and vulva

  • Rinse the cow's rear end and vulva with cold water to reduce any swelling.
  • Leave the cow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes and then have her stand up. This brings the uterus back into position and frees any blocked nerves and blood vessels.
  • •If the cow continues to strain, check for a second calf (and otherwise the cow can stand immediately). The placenta must be expelled within 6 hours. If not, warn a vet.

10.  Provision of energy drink

After calving, it is important to supplement any fluids and minerals lost by the cow. Therefore, feed her an energy drink, such as Farm-O-San Reviva, immediately after calving therefore. This helps establish a good energy balance and roughage intake by the cow.

Questions about natal care on your farm?

Do you have plans to renew your calf pens and would you be interested in advice? Want to know more about health risks around calving? Ask the Sprayfo specialist in your region!

Direct advice