Critical Hours for Calving

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As I’m writing this article, I currently have triplet goat kids that I am bottle feeding. Talk about a wrench being thrown in the works! When my family first started raising goats, some of the “old timers,” as I like to call them, gave us the best advice and that was to always keep things on hand you don’t think you will need, like milk replacer. Having animals has taught me a thing or two, but one of the biggest is to always be prepared for the unexpected. I wanted to write this article in hopes to help prepare you for calving season and things to look for during the critical hours of calving.

For my cattle producers that calve in the fall, chances are you already have calves on the ground, and those that choose to calve in the spring, well it will be here before you know it. Be aware of your cow’s “due date,” and keep a special eye on them; have colostrum on hand in case your calves can’t get any from their own mother.

Hour -4 to 0: Labor through Calving: Montana research shows dystocia (calving difficulty) is the cause of most stillborn calves, and it can also be attributed to the death of 50 percent of calves that die within the first 24 hours of life. It is better to get involved earlier rather than later; if you think there’s a problem with the calving of one of your cows, get closer and take a good look. If it looks like there is a problem, assist the cow or call the vet.

Hour 0-4: Birth to Standing: Calves should stand and nurse within two hours of birth. The colostrum intake of the calf is very important since it provides immunity to the newborn. The calf needs to receive colostrum within 24 hours of birth, 12 hours if possible. After hour 12, the ability of the gut to absorb the antibodies decreases by about 50 percent. Calves may need to be moved to a warm, indoor area if the weather is extremely cold or wet.

Hour 4-12: Standing to Processing: Processing of all calves should be done, if possible, to minimize further stress and pain; processing procedures include tagging, castration, tattooing, etc. Cows should be checked at this time for expelling of afterbirth—if they haven’t, problems may arise.

Hour 12-24: First day: Check to make sure everyone is healthy, warm, and nursing.

Hour 24-48: Second day: Calves should continue to be monitored. They should be easily following cows, nursing, and alert.

Hour 48-72: Third day: By this time, calves probably will be, and should be, hard to catch. They should be moving around well with lots of energy. Moving all healthy cows and calves into a larger, but well drained pasture is common at this time. Any cows with retained placentas should be treated with antibiotics before being turned out in a larger area.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out. Contact Taylor Chavis, Extension Livestock Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 910-671-3276, by email at, or visit our website.