Late pregnancy management of suckler cows is critical

December 28th, 2017 5:05 PM

By Southern Star Team

Aim for a trouble-free calving period this spring.

Share this article

By Anthony O’Connor

SPRING calving suckler cows are now in mid or late pregnancy. With 75% to 80% of a calf’s potential birthweight being laid down in the last two months before calving, then pre-calving management and preparing for calving is crucial in reducing problems at calving time. 

Consider the following: 

Pen space - As pregnancy progresses, the calf foetus expands and grows, so too does the space required needed for suckler cows. If your pens are overstocked, cow performance will suffer, due to restricted movement in pens which reduces free access to forage. If feeding concentrates, make sure all cows can eat at the feed barrier together. 

Body Condition Score (BCS) - Spring calving cows need to be at BCS 2.5 at calving. Cows should be divided and fed according to their BCS status when housed. It is important to group similar cows together when housing as cows at different levels of condition require different leFat cows (BCS4) may experience calving difficulties while thin cows (BCS2 or less) may suffer depressed milk yield and may be delayed returning to heat for the next breeding season. Restrict feed to fat cows, while thin cows may need concentrates in order to meet their BCS target at calving time.  

Grouping cows on body condition will allow feeding levels to be targeted to nutritional demand. The ideal situation is where cows can be split into three groups – fat cows can have fodder restricted depending on quality, cows in ideal body condition can be fed ad lib silage and thin cows will require supplementation with concentrates.  

It is important to act early – research at Grange has shown you cannot reduce calving difficulty by starving cows. Equally, over-feeding concentrates in the last few weeks approaching calving in the hope of getting cows into the required body condition does not work. 

The cow will put this extra feeding into the calf leading to bigger calf at calving and more difficulties. This means, if you have thin cows, feed concentrate in conjunction with silage from the day you house cows. You can monitor their condition and if they are getting too fleshy, pull back on the concentrate levels. Cows need to be monitored throughout the winter so that they are ‘fit and not fat’ before calving.

 Spring Calvers in good condition - Feed 1kg extra below for thin cows

 - 72% DMD Feed restricted access silage (80% of requirements) 

 - 65% DMD Feed silage ad lib 

 - 60% DMD, Feed silage ad lib + 0.5kg to 1.0 kg concentrates  

 - 55% DMD, Feed silage ad lib + 1.0 kg concentrates

 Parasites - Liver fluke and lice are the most troublesome parasites of suckler cows. Well-fed, healthy cows have strong immunity to worms. All housed cows should have been treated for fluke at this stage. 

If treating cows at present time, consult your vet on the most effective product to use. Any veterinary product used should control early immature, immature, and adult fluke. When treating for lice, ensure to cover all the stock in the shed.  

Mineral-Trace Element Supplementation - Silage is generally well balanced in major minerals, but is deficient in trace elements such as Copper, Selenium and Iodine. Pre-calving mineral licks (in buckets) can be offered to  cows six weeks prior to calving. 

Alternatively, a dry cow mineral mix can be sprinkled on the silage at a rate of 100grams per head/day for six weeks before calving. If feeding thin cows concentrate, check mineral content as compound rations will be balanced for minerals.    

Vaccination for scours - Vaccines can be used in combination with good nutrition and hygiene to combat infections. Vaccines against E.coli, Rotavirus, Coronavirus and Salmonella will give passive immunity to calves via colostrum from the cow immediately post-calving. 

These vaccines generally have to be given one to three months prior to calving to be effective so make sure you check with your vet with regard to timing of vaccination. Check veterinary produce label for dosing rates, injection site, etc.  

•  Anthony O’Connor is a Teagasc adviser with the Galway-Clare Regional Unit.


Share this article

Related content


to our mailing list for the latest news and sport:

Thank You!

You have successfully been subscribed to SouthernStar newsletter!

Form submitting... Thank you for waiting.