How to manage calving during the drying-off period

Good environmental management for calving cows is essential to prevent new udder infections. Extra attention should be paid to cows in the 24 hours before and after calving.

Find out more about managing calving during drying-off

Minimise stress and bacterial exposure

  • Provide the cow with a clean, comfortable and dry environment in which to calve
  • Minimise stress and ensure the udder and teats are exposed to low levels of disease-causing bacteria when the cow is lying during calving
  • Ensure all flooring areas are non-slip with good grip
  • Regularly remove dung from calving yards and pens to avoid build-up of cow and calf disease-causing bacteria. Keeping calving cows clean will minimise the risk of mastitis
  • Scrape alleyways, loafing and feeding areas used by calving cows twice daily
  • Provide at least 2 m2/cow loafing area for calving cows
  • Always keep calving areas well ventilated

Calving in individual calving pens

  • Ideally, all cows should calve in individual calving pens
  • Clean pens between calving
  • Provide at least 15 m2 lying space per cow in both pens and yards

Calving at pasture and in straw yards

Time at pasture increases a cow’s exposure to mastitis-causing bacteria. Find out how to manage the risk and prevent infection. Read more about how to manage dry cows at pasture.

The risk of new intramammary infection is very high at calving, so it can be difficult to manage calving cows in yard systems bedded with straw. Space is often limited, particularly when shared with cows in the final 2–3 weeks before calving (the transition period). Ensure:

  • There is adequate drainage to avoid pooling of liquid and to keep the surface of bedding dry
  • The base of a straw yard has excellent drainage, possibly with sand on top of hardcore or concrete
  • That 250 kg of unchopped straw is used to bed each calving cow each month
  • That new, clean straw is added daily and straw bedding is spread evenly
  • Yards are completely cleaned out every month

Calving in sand yards

Managing calving cows in sand yards can be very labour-intensive but, in general, the risks of new intramammary infections are lower and bedding costs are reduced. However, aim to get cows onto a straw bed during calving.

  • Use washed sand or sea sand
  • Remove dung from lying areas twice daily
  • Spread fresh, clean sand in the lying areas at least once daily

Completely clean out the yard at least every 6 months (or more often if necessary).

The immediate post-calving period (less than 24 hours after calving)

It is essential to provide adequate feeding space to avoid competition between cows and the build-up of dung in passageways where cattle queue to feed. It is also important to maximise their dry matter intake and energy input.

Cows in the calving areas must:

  • Always have access to good quality feed that meets their nutritional requirements, whether in pens or yards
  • Receive the lactating cow diet immediately from the onset of calving
  • Have at least 0.6 m2 feed space per cow
  • Always have access to potable water
  • Be observed for signs of mastitis or other diseases in the first 24 hours after calving
  • Have each quarter stripped within 4 hours of calving to check for mastitis
  • Be milked for the first time within 24 hours of calving

The calf should be left for a maximum of 24 hours with the dam after calving.

  • You must know the disease status of your cows (particularly Johne’s disease)
  • Depending on the disease status of the cow, you may need to implement earlier removal of the calf

Calves must not have the opportunity to suckle other cows as well as their dam.

Useful links

Dairy calf management