How are You Increasing your Capacity for Care in the Face of Forecasted Weather Events?

Hannah Greenwell – Extension Educator

Capacity for Care is an idea that I was recently educated on by Dr. Halden Clark of the Great Plains Vet Education Center in Clay Center, Nebraska. As operators, some of our modern challenges have been shrinking labor force and aging cattlemen. Potentially reducing the amount and extent of care we can provide over a given period of time, or our capacity for care. This challenge is potentially exacerbated during busy times, such as calving, and increased stress events, like impending storms. However, hand in hand with that challenge is improved technology, facilities, and genetic selection born out of necessity to make a more efficient system than ever before. How can we use such tools to navigate these challenges to increase our capacity for care?

The first opportunity is remaining educated and knowing the facts about what we are dealing with currently. For this specific time, let’s think about calving and some critical points to be aware of:

  • First 4 Hours: Due to in-utero conditions in cattle, antibody absorption cannot occur during gestation and MUST occur through colostrum transfer. This most effectively occurs in the first 4 hours post-calving when the intestinal absorption potential is at its peak.
  • 30 minutes: During cold, wet, and windy weather it can take 30 minutes or less for a newborn calf to drop below critical body temperature and decreasing chances of survival. Realizing that this varies greatly depending on a range of factors (weather combination, age of cow, calving pasture/lot status, provided protection), it is good to observe closely and act accordingly in each situation of deciding whether or not to take a calf in.
  • 95° F: If a calf has a rectal temperature below 95° F, you should consider methods to warm the calf before providing colostrum replacer. If the calf is above a rectal temperature of 95° F proceed with feeding them a meal of colostrum replacer.
  • 100g of antibodies: The minimum number of grams of antibodies, sometimes called globulin proteins or IgG, a newborn calf needs to have provided by a colostrum replacer.  This is different than simply the grams of protein the product contains. Products labeled as “colostrum replacer” should contain 100g or more to achieve the ideal level of immunity.  Products labeled as “colostrum supplements” generally contain around 50g IgG and are best to use when the calf got some colostrum, but volume or quality are in doubt. With replacer and supplement products, you usually get what you pay for.

Creatively increasing seasonal labor is another potential for elevated capacity for care. This does not have to be as extensive as hiring full calving season help, which can still be a good option. But how about your neighbors? Do you have a neighbor that has a different calving season than your operation? Would they be willing to take a couple checks one night or two? I’m sure they wouldn’t mind pitching in, especially when you show up to their branding with an extra wrestler that year. Don’t forget that in a time of uncertainty, we are still an incredible part of our country that knows the power of a neighbor and the community that creates.

Being prepared, while this is normally our go-to method of storm preparation, should not go unmentioned. Among getting cows in behind protection, providing additional feed, bedding pens, etc., checking supplies should also be on that list. Colostrum & milk replacer, sanitizer and other calving assistance supplies, clean, dry towels, feed supply levels, and fuel covers a broad list of supplies considerations.

Lastly, are there investments you could make in facilities or technology that would elevate your capacity for care that could potentially increase calving season success? I use the term success instead of dollars or returns, because being in the green through this season can be measured in decreased stress, increased sleep, and overall operation mentality. It could be as simple as a calf-warmer or as advanced as a remote video observation system. Some other things that come to mind as we face down another impending storm could include addressing the amount of wind protection provided, having a suitable (CLEAN) place to care for calves that are brought in, having a reserve of already warm water in that same location to quickly care for animals brought in to get back out and deal with other urgent matters. Seeking out ways to address stress points can look extremely different from neighbor to neighbor and remembering to sometimes take a step backwards to observe the system can have the potential to put us ten steps forward!