Odonnell tyler
Associate Extension Educator / University of Idaho Extension

With the new year upon us, many producers across the country are looking toward calving season to bring in the new crop of calves. With the country rebuilding from drought, cattle prices are high, therefore raising the stakes on weaning a healthy calf. This starts prior to calving, ensuring that you have a plan in place before the season starts. All your tools need to be organized and ready with everyone responsible for assisting trained on how to use them.

Once a calf is on the ground, the priority is to assess its health status to determine if intervention is needed or warranted. Should the calf show signs of struggling to breathe, clean mucus from the nose and mouth using a cloth or clean rag, which aids in reducing the occurrence of infection. If the calf continues to struggle to breathe, quick action will need to be taken. Arrange the calf with its back legs toward its head, while laying it on its chest. Stimulate the gasping reflex by sticking a piece of straw up its nose or by pinching the nose.

Once the calf is breathing, we need to ensure that they nurse. Ideally, the calf should be nursing within two hours of birth to receive the much-needed antibodies from colostrum. Calves are born without a functioning immune system and rely on the immunoglobulins that colostrum contains. If something happens to the dam or she is not producing adequate colostrum, then supplementation or replacement is warranted. Pay attention to the label and ensure that you are purchasing colostrum for cattle, and that you are using the correct type. Colostrum replacer must have a minimum of 10 milligrams per milliliter of immunoglobulin (IgG), designed to raise the IgG content above the species minimum for cattle.

In addition to providing immune support to young calves, colostrum also provides a warming effect, which is necessary for survival in young calves when temperatures are low. If you recognize a calf as being “slow to start,” they may need to warm up. Calf warmers are ideal for these situations and can be constructed simply with plywood and a heater. When building your own warming box, ensure that there is adequate ventilation and that the heat source is not a fire hazard. Calves should go into a warming box if their temperature is below 101ºF. When putting a calf into a warming box, be sure to periodically check on them, as they can regain vigor quickly in some instances.


Calving can be a stressful season for many producers. Hopefully these tips and tricks are not needed; however, being prepared for the situation when it inevitably comes is vitally important.