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Stockmen's Survey: Calving time tips

Agriculture.com Staff 01/25/2006 @ 2:35pm

Nebraska rancher Terry Clements uses the Sandhills Calving System to prevent calf scours in his herd. Here he moves pregnant cows to a new calving pasture, separating them from the latest group of pairs.

On a cool, rainy day in early May, Terry Clements saddles up his horse in a muddy lot and heads out to move a group of 50 "heavy" cows to fresh pasture. "This is the kind of weather that used to cause a disaster with the calves," he says.

In about an hour, Clements finishes a chore that has helped cut calf scours on his Loup County, Nebraska, ranch to nonexistent. The simple task of herding cattle is the beauty of the Sandhills Calving System. The method is designed to prevent calf scours by moving pregnant cows on a schedule, leaving the pairs grouped separately by age.

Before he began using the system a few years ago, Clements likely would be doctoring calves on a day like this. Scours was a constant battle.

"Treating sick calves would kill day after day while you were trying to get your spring fieldwork done," he says.

Often, as many as 75% of his calves contracted scours, bringing 5% or more death losses. This year: No scours; no dead calves from diarrhea.

Scours and calf mortality are major issues for cow-calf and dairy producers, according to a Stockmen's Survey™ poll conducted by Successful Farming magazine and Agriculture Online® (www.agriculture.com).

Livestock producers rate calf mortality as the second most important health issue in their operations in terms of costs, labor, and reduced production. More than two thirds of producers say diarrhea is the most common calf disease in their operations.

Experts long have recommended a number of preventive treatments for calf health, including use of colostrum, nursing pastures, and heated huts.

The Nebraska system has been tested successfully in large Sandhills beef herds over the past five years, but its developers believe the concept can be adopted in other parts of the country and in smaller operations.

The system is similar to the way dairy producers use calf hutches to control disease - you prevent contact with scours "bugs" that are carried by other cattle and facilities.

Nebraska rancher Terry Clements uses the Sandhills Calving System to prevent calf scours in his herd. Here he moves pregnant cows to a new calving pasture, separating them from the latest group of pairs.

Terry Clements (right) updates veterinarian Brett Andrews on progress with his calving system. Calf losses due to scours were cut to nothing last spring.

Every calving season Russ Brandes tries something new. "I've been rotationally grazing since 1985, but I'm still learning," says Brandes of Hancock, Iowa. Weaning calves and cows on 50 acres of pasture can be stressful for everyone, so last year Brandes tried QuietWean nose tags from JDA Livestock Innovations, Saskatoon, Canada (www.quietwean.com).

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