Both dairy and suckler farmers alike are well aware of the increased workload that calving season brings with it.

While spring calving has already started on some farms, it's still not too late to put preparations in place to help reduce stress on the farm.

With this in mind, Northern Ireland's College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise's (CAFRE) senior beef and sheep advisor John Sands, has outlined a few tips farmers can keep in mind in the run up to calving.

Firstly, farmers should check their service records and draw up a chart of when each animal is expected to calve. The chart is a useful management tool, building up a picture of how the bull and cows perform.

Ensure cows are ‘fit’ for calving

Cows should be ‘fit but not fat’ at calving. They should be managed throughout the year to achieve this.

Fat cows often have a difficult delivery of calves whereas thin cows struggle to maintain weight after the calf is born and won’t produce as much good-quality milk to grow the new calf. 

Feed a maintenance-only diet during the dry period to maintain body condition scores around 3 to 3.5 (5-very fat, 1-very thin).

Where possible, cow condition should be manipulated before going dry or early in the dry period as additional feed in late pregnancy can simply grow a bigger calf and add to calving difficulties.


50% of a calf's foetal growth occurs in the last three months of pregnancy. In addition to rapid foetal growth, the uterus, placenta and surrounding foetal fluids must also increase in size during this time.

It is important that pregnant animals receive adequate energy, protein, vitamins and minerals to assist with this growth ensuring live healthy births and a quick return to normal cycling by the cow afterwards.

This can be provided by feeding 30-35kg of good-quality silage daily along with a suitable dry cow mineral, low in calcium to avoid the onset of milk fever at calving but high in other minerals and vitamins like selenium and vitamin E, which are necessary for the pregnant animal and reduce things like afterbirth retention.

Preparing calving facilities

Calving pens should be cleaned out and disinfected and any repairs needed to floors and gates carried out in advance of calving.

If straw bedding is not available, an alternative bedding should be on hand such wood chip or rubber mats.

Calves born on wet, slippery floors waste a lot of valuable energy trying to stand up and often miss out on getting enough colostrum within the first 4-5 hours.

Depending on the calf's birth weight, 3-6L of colostrum should be fed. 

Farmers who do not have a calving gate or need another calving gate should do so without hesitation. A calving gate is invaluable as the cow or heifer can be provided with assistance calmly and safely, with much less stress and effort required by both the farmer and the animal.

Equipment and help

All equipment needed should be in supply and easily available, should it be needed urgently when a cow is calving. 

Spare ropes for the calving jack; iodine; blue spray; lubricating gel; long arm gloves; a flutter valve; and a few bottles of calcium are all useful to have on hand in the run up to calving.

Veterinary Practitioner

Last but not least, make sure that the local veterinary practice's phone number is stored on your phone in case of a difficult calving or emergency.

Remember, the cost for veterinary assistance will be much less than the impact of a dead calf.

Often in the case of a cow calving or a newborn calf, calling the vet in good time can be essential to help ensure a positive outcome.