Farm Advice: Preparing for calving over winter

By: Ashley Greenwood, DairyNZ animal care extension specialist

Tips and advice from Dairy NZ around raising calves during the winter months


Winter is well and truly upon us, and I know this is a challenging time on the farming calendar. These colder months means that managing both our cows and the calves they are carrying requires extra care and attention.

As we head towards calving, it’s important to think about what we can do to avoid our cows calving on mud or crop.

Newborn calves are particularly vulnerable to cold and are more affected than their dams. Planning to calve in the right conditions is essential, and there are a few key things to consider to ensure good outcomes all round.

Getting cows off winter crop

Once cows are close to calving, drafting them off crop and back onto pasture is important for a few reasons:

Mineral imbalances in some crops can cause an increase in metabolic diseases, such as milk fever.

A cleaner calving environment reduces the risk of infection for both cow and calf.

The calf needs to get the required ‘liquid gold’ colostrum from mum – this is more likely on solid ground and not having to choose to shelter over feed, due to any wet paddock conditions.

It’s worth using all the information you have available to observe cows close to calving. Daily observation of animal signs such as ‘springing up’ and swollen vulvas, alongside their expected calving dates, will ensure cows are removed from crop promptly and are able to calve in the right conditions.

The calving environment

Calving in a paddock with shelter gives calves a good start in life, providing more comfort and warmth to benefit their health. If calves are too cold, they are less likely to stand up to drink that precious colostrum from their mother.

Providing a safe and sheltered environment for cows to calve on will give them the best start to their lactation, improve general health, and reduce the risk of future mastitis.

Farmer case study

Southland farmers Suzanne and Maurice Hanning tap into their knowledge of their farm for their wintering approach. The Hanning’s farm currently has 650 cows on its 230 hectares and nearby support block.

They have their calving set-up planned with their animals at the heart of their farm decisions. Suzanne explains that calving on crop is something they take steps to avoid.

"To avoid calving on crop, when we dry off, we put our cows into calving mobs based on scanning information and AB dates. These mobs have around 120 or 130 cows per group.

"We check our cows at least twice a day, every day, to see if any of the animals are showing calving signs. Often the person moving the back fence checks all the cows, casting their eye down their row to see who could be close. Then we are able to decide if any cow needs to be moved."

The work on the Hanning’s farm is an example of what’s being done on-farm throughout the region.

Now is an important time for us all to be considering what changes can be made on-farm, so we can make a difference this winter. 

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