Calving paddocks checklist

Friday, 18 June 2021

Calving in a good shed is better than doing a bad job in a paddock. The advantage of autumn calving is that you can calve outside and people love the logistics, says Graise Consultancy’s Andre van Barneveld. But there are so many variables, it’s not a straightforward case of wet weather dictating indoors or out:
  • Grass – standing hay varies in stemminess year to year, says Andre. “If you have grown green, quality grass, then you need to dilute this with hay. Some people try to calve on a bare paddock, but is it really bare? Wet conditions will grow a green, leafy crop and it might be better to house calving cows instead”
  • Mud – best practice says to rest and rotate calving paddocks: spend two weeks in a paddock, then rest for four weeks. This, together with a stocking rate of no more than 7 cows/acre helps reduce environmental mastitis risks. Andre points out, however, that while mud containing normal soil bacteria isn’t a problem for cow and calf, it is for public perception. “The general public won’t accept this as they will perceive it to be unhygienic to have cows calving in mud,” he explains
  • Operator – spring block calving herds find that outside logistics are easier, says Andre. “Travelling with a quad and trailer to load up calves is better than carrying calves across a shed. We have to consider staff safety with lifting and carrying”
  • Timing – Andre suggests close-to-calving cows should be in a calving paddock for about 7–10 days to minimise poaching and reduce bacterial loading. “This is the time where minerals and nutrition are adjusted, with higher rates of magnesium needed, for instance, in the last two weeks”
  • Water – although dry cows won’t drink as much– just 20–40 L/day – they need the same unrestricted access to water as a milking cow
  • Close to buildings – the danger is using the same paddocks every year. It’s OK when they get fully rested, but if there are issues at calving, consider moving to a different area on the platform: “Sacrifice some time travelling for the sake of cow and calf health,” adds Andre.