In the August issue of Progressive Cattlemen, I shared with you the first five of my top 10 beef cow-calf management myths. Below are the second five – plus a few bonus myths. Click here to read part 1.

Midla lowell
Dairy Technical Services Veterinarian / Merck Animal Health

Hanging or swinging a newborn calf by the back legs is a good way to clear fluid from the lungs.

Calves are born, like all mammals, with fluid filling their lungs. The first breath of life takes significantly more energy to take than a normal breath … but why?

Think of a glass of iced tea sitting on a smooth countertop. Sometimes the glass will become “stuck” to the counter by a thin layer of water between the glass and the counter. This is due to surface tension – an attraction between the water molecules themselves in the water under the glass.

The important structure in the calf is the alveolus – the microscopic terminal end of the respiratory tree. (Think of a bunch of grapes – the main stem being analogous to the windpipe, which then branches and ultimately ends at a grape, which is analogous to an alveolus.)


This alveolus is what has to “pop” open to fill with air when an animal takes its first breath – and there are several million alveoli that must each pop open.

Just like with the glass on the counter, the surface tension of the fluid in each alveolus makes it difficult for the alveolus to fill with air the first time.

Normally, this is overcome by the facts that each alveolus actually has very little fluid in it, the fluid gets very rapidly re-absorbed by the body, and that in preparation for being born, the calf produces surfactant to help overcome the surface tension.

But what about swinging the calf from the back legs? The answer is: Don’t do it. The reason? You are not going to make any difference where it matters – in the microscopic alveoli. Not only are you not going to help, but you will probably do harm. It is difficult for any animal to breathe when it is upside-down.

Calves have been born for thousands of years without people around to hang them over a gate. If you can’t bring yourself to not do it, then just swing the calf once and then put it down. The two best things to do for the newborn calf are to place it in sternal recumbency (on its chest with its legs beneath it) and to use the “straw in the nose” trick.

Getting colostrum from a neighbor’s farm to feed to a newborn calf is OK.

It is OK – as long as you don’t care about Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (the bacteria that causes Johne’s disease) or other potentially serious pathogens entering your herd.

While it may seem your neighbor runs a “clean” operation, there is still risk. Johne’s disease, BVD, bovine leukemia virus (and a long list of other diseases you don’t want to get if you don’t already have them) exist; they exist and persist in many herds.

Just like you can’t judge whether someone is a Republican or Democrat from the type of car they drive, you can’t draw the conclusion a herd is free from a given disease from the fact that it is a purebred seedstock versus a commercial herd, whether it is well-maintained or has junk farm equipment in every pasture, etc.

Disease prevalence within a herd depends upon the operation’s biosecurity policies and protocols and how well they implement them.

All colostrum replacement products are the same.

Colostrum replacement products have been around for a long time. Prior to around 2000, they were only slightly better than useless. Since then, several companies have produced colostrum replacers that actually do just that – act as a reasonably good replacement for maternal colostrum.

However, just because a product is sold does not mean it will necessarily correct your calf’s colostrum deficit. Below are some guidelines that may help you to select a colostrum replacement product.


  • First, some clarification: IgG is the immunoglobulin protein that calves absorb and utilize as an antibody to fight disease during the first few months of life until they build their own immunoglobulins/antibodies in response to either disease exposure or vaccination.

    This may be called “IgG,” “immunoglobulin,” “globulin” or “globulin protein” on the label of colostrum replacers.
  • Generally, calves need to receive 150 to 200 grams of IgG to achieve “adequate passive transfer” of immunity.

    If there is any question as to whether a given calf has received adequate colostrum, then it should be given a full dose (at least 150 grams of IgG).

  • Most commercially available colostrum replacer products do not contain 150 grams of IgG, and no colostrum supplement product contains this much IgG. Consider giving two doses of a colostrum replacer – each mixed according to label directions.

    However, 4 quarts may be a bit much for a calf weighing less than 70 pounds, so if you are going to give two doses to such a calf, then you should delay the second dose for an hour or two.

  • Colostrum-derived products are generally slightly better absorbed by the calf than serum-derived products. That is not to say serum-derived products are bad but simply that absorption across the gut wall is a bit better for colostrum-derived products.

  • If a calf nurses colostrum from a bottle, then absorption is generally slightly better than if the colostrum was administered via tube. Of course, timing is also critical, so if the calf will not nurse, then it should be immediately tubed.

My operation is too small/too large/too (insert any adjective here) utilize A.I.

Modern protocols allow you to synchronize groups of cows easily, conveniently and inexpensively. All you need is a chute.


  • There are many factors that affect A.I. success. Consult with your veterinarian well in advance of breeding season regarding nutrition, which protocol will work best for you, etc.

  • At minimum, consider utilizing A.I. in the yearling heifers. There are three very good reasons to use A.I. in heifers. First, if you are making genetic progress with each generation, then the youngest animals will be the furthest ahead genetically.

    Using a proven A.I. sire on your most genetically advanced animals will, in nearly every case, move you further and faster toward your goals than using a herd bull.

    Second, the conception rate (fraction of females that get pregnant) is almost always higher for heifers than for cows, so you’ll get a bigger bang for your A.I. buck.

    Finally, proven sires will, again in nearly every case, be more predictably consistent with respect to calving ease. It is a bad day when the first five 2-year-olds to calve to your new bull have had giant calves that tore them up, and you have 25 more heifers due to calve to that bull.

Pregnancy checking in the fall doesn’t pay.

On most cow-calf operations, if all lumped together, the costs associated with farm/ranch ownership are the biggest cost (land, buildings, equipment, depreciation, taxes, insurance, etc.).

The second-biggest cost is feed, and most of that cost is incurred in the winter (at least in the northern half of the U.S.). The paycheck from a beef cow comes once per year in the form of a weaned calf.

Determining that a cow is open (and therefore not going to reward you with a paycheck) prior to incurring the winter feed cost for that cow has perhaps the greatest return on investment of any intervention on a cow-calf operation.


  • Total pounds of calf weaned nearly always depends more upon number of calves weaned than upon average weaning weight of the calves.

    In beef cows managed under non-pampered conditions where roughly 85 (plus or minus 10) calves are weaned per 100 cows exposed, losses of calves (per 100 cows) are typically five to 15 due to open cow/cow failed to get pregnant, five or less due to pregnancy loss/abortion during gestation, five to 10 during the first two weeks of life (dystocia, scours), and two or less per 100 cows from 2 weeks old to weaning.

    Thus, the biggest loss of potential calves is that the cow failed to become pregnant in the first place. While preventing this should always be attempted, accepting that it is nearly always going to happen to some degree and then minimizing the financial damage that results from it by shipping open cows in the fall should be a standard operating procedure.

  • Depending upon how far along in gestation the cows are when they are palpated, your veterinarian may be able to tell you which cows conceived later in the breeding season and thus will be calving late.

    These cows could potentially be marketed soon after palpation as bred cows, thus avoiding younger, lighter calves at weaning as well as those cows calving even later or being open the following year.
Lowell Midla
  • Lowell Midla

  • Assistant Professor
  • College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Ohio State University
  • Email Lowell Midla





Some bonus myths

  • Preconditioning won’t work for me.

  • You shouldn’t spend much money on a herd bull.

  • There is one beef breed that is the best.

  • I don’t have to write it down that I administered an antibiotic to this animal, I’ll remember not to ship her before the antibiotic withdrawal interval has elapsed.

  • I don’t need records.

  • I don’t need ear tags.

  • I don’t need a scale.

  • That is the way we’ve always done it, so it must be right.

Yeah, that might be true, but if you keep doing it that way, then don’t expect an outcome that is any better than what you’ve always gotten.

  • I don’t need a vet; I can diagnose and treat almost everything myself.

Yeah, that might be true, but don’t spend three hours trying to get the calf out of the cow before calling the vet. At that point, there is likely little the vet can do that will result in an outcome that you, the vet or the cow will consider a success.