Farmer Focus: Three key areas to focus on at calving time

Spring has sprung and calving is in full swing here. With 90% of the herd calving in six weeks, this is the time when everything must be on point, as mistakes will be punished.

The system has to be set up for cows to transition well and calve down without any problems, while calves must hit the ground healthy and continue to thrive.

As we all know, this isn’t always the case and problems do occur, but on our farm we have three key areas we focus on to improve animal health and farm efficiency at its busiest time.

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First is colostrum management. Colostrum harvesting and storage was an area we reaped rewards with.

We milk the cow within five or six hours of calving to get the best quality colostrum with the highest level of antibodies. We store colostrum in a fridge in clean three-litre milk containers for no longer than 48 hours.

Having gone to all that trouble, we try to get it into the calf within two hours of birth.

Second is cow transitioning. Setting targets for cow health is a real focus here at calving as, without a benchmark, you’re working in the dark on herd health.

We follow research targets such as no more than 10% incidence of retained placenta, 3% incidence of left displaced abomasum, 10% problem calvings and, importantly, 5% clinical cases of milk fever.

If cows are transitioning well, there should be very few issues, but assessing nutrition, body condition score, feed space, cubicle and calving shed layout should be the first on the list if problems arise.

Finally, when the last cow calves, we take 15 minutes to write a review of what worked and what didn’t during the season.

This is an invaluable piece of information to use in the quieter times of the year when spring is just a distant, fuzzy haze and everything went well, as far as you remember.

Take time to fix all those niggly problems and endeavour to not repeat them next season.   


Gillian O’Sullivan is a dairy farmer from southern Ireland. Read more.