Ask the Expert: Maternity Facilities

Posted on November 5, 2012 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
Dr. Neil Michael comes to Starting Strong with nearly 30 years of experience as a veterinarian specializing in dairy. He currently works as the Director of Dairy Initiatives for Vita Plus.
Q:  What makes the ideal maternity facility?
A:  Prior to birth, calves are well protected inside the uterus from bacterial, physical and temperature changes. However, that all changes the moment a calf is born. To give your calves  a strong start, you should routinely do a simple check-up for your maternity pen area.
Here’s the checklist I use:
  • Bedding:  The bedding within the calving area should be fresh and clean for every newborn calf to reduce bacterial contamination that may lead to diarrhea and/or umbilical infections. Although many bedding sources have been used successfully, clean straw bedding is a favorite of maternity pen managers since it provides a dry cushion for delivery and minimizes bedding contamination of the newborn calf.
  • Temperature:  Avoiding extreme temperatures within the calving area is necessary for optimizing consistent colostrum absorption since calves have limited ability to control their body temperature during the first few hours after birth. During winter months, drying calves immediately post-delivery and placing them in a warming box has improved calf survival and colostrum intake.
  • Equipment:  When cows require calving assistance, tails must be tied to the side and the perineal area thoroughly cleaned with a disinfectant. Likewise, chains, straps and pullers should be disinfected after each assisted calving. Persons assisting the calving must wear clean protective gloves while properly positioning the calf and providing adequate lubricant within the birthing canal.
  • Colostrum:  Colostrum should be harvested within six hours post calving. Longer intervals may decrease yield and quantity due to leakage and/or re-absorption by the cow. Additionally, preparation of the udder pre-harvest and cleanliness of the collection bucket is critical to avoid bacterial contamination of colostrum, which leads to higher morbidity and mortality in young calves.
  • Processing:  Once delivered, calves should be removed from the cow, tagged and placed in a separate area within the maternity pen to prevent possible injury and contamination. Navels should be dipped from a clean apparatus and any pre-colostral vaccines given followed by administration of 4 quarts of colostrum within 3 to 4 hours of known quality and from Johnes-negative dams.

Category: Animal health
Facility design
Starting Strong - Calf Care