Calving Preparation

What to have on hand: Refer to Medicine Box:

How we dry off our cows:

  • > First, go to “once-a-day” (OAD) milkings for 3-4 days.
  • > Second, skip two milkings in a row.
  • > If after that she has a huge bag of milk, milk her out and skip three more milkings. (If she hasn’t made much milk, then skip her another day or two and milk out one last time and you are done.) If your cow is a high producer and doesn’t want to quit, you will have to just stop and let her be uncomfortable for a few more days.
  • > When you are confident she has drastically reduced her milk production, milk her out one final time. Then administer dry treatment if needed AT the time of last milking. So, on that day, milk her out completely, then administer dry treatment, rub and smoosh the antibiotics around because you want it to get all the way up into the udder as far as you can get it. DO NOT milk her out again until she calves!
  • > We prefer this somewhat more gradual method of drying off, as it is much more comfortable to the cow and I just can’t stand the thought of her having to reabsorb ALL that milk! (ie If she was just abruptly stopped and not milked again.)
  • Sample dry off schedule: OAD for 3 days; every other day for 4 days (so, two milkings); then stop milking. Go 3 days, milk out one last time.


Make sure cow is in a safe, secure area. You can give Calcium or CMPK paste a day before calving if she is making up a lot. Manure before calving should be soft to loose. If she starts to get too firm of manure, try giving her some warm water or some soaked beet pulp.

When is baby coming? (Some or all of these signs should be present)

  • > Look for the ligaments between her tail head and pin bones (rear hip bones) to relax and get soft, like a stretched out rubber band.
  • > Her udder will make up until it gets tight, full, and swollen looking. Udder will lose all or most of its wrinkles and edema will cause the quarters to look mishapened and odd sizes, depending on how the cow lays.
  • > Milk may start spraying out of all teats.
  • > The teats may get hard, full, and shiny and she may spray continuous milk.
  • > If she wants to be far away from everything and on her own, “hiding”…
  • > The cow may go off her feed up to 24 hours before calving.
  • > She may start to act distracted or aggressive around other animals (particularly dogs!) even if she is usually very friendly.
  • > Another good indicator, her tail will be sticking straight out (like she needs to go to the bathroom, but only little piles come out or nothing at all.
  • > She may try to lay down and push, might get up and down a lot.
  • > You may see her sides quiver from contractions and you may see front feet sticking out (ideally).
  • > She might lick her sides back and forth.
  • > Lots of clear goo (Small amounts are normal the weeks before calving, but if you see huge amounts, you may be in calving time).
  • > The cow may give little moos.
  • Best indicator, when there’s a calf up and nursing! ;)

When is baby not coming yet?

  • > If the udder is still loose and has room to grow, you likely have more time. (Sometimes, a mature cow will not “make up” much before calving)
  • > If the cow is relaxed and cudding, acting normal.
  • > If the teats are wrinkly and not filled with much milk.
  • > You may see long strings of clear mucous hanging out, but cows can do this a week or two before calving.
  • > She may drip some milk a week or two before calving.
  • > If her belly and frame have not “blossomed”.

Cow not calving right? There could be a number of concerns:

  • > First, she might not want people around bothering her.
  • > Second, the calf may be in a problematic presentation or may just be too big to come out. If you see the water break, you should be seeing hooves about the same time or close after. If you don’t see hooves within 15-30 minutes after the water breaks, you may need to call someone with calving experience or DIY and put your gloved arm into the cow to inspect (using AI gloves). If you see hooves but nothing seems to be wrong, then give the cow 20-30 minutes more before you try to help her pull the calf out.

When is baby stuck?

  • > If you see toes but they keep coming in and out for a long time, then the cow may not be able to push the calf out. The feet should be two, right next to each other, and with the bottom of the hooves facing downward.  My first heifer had the feet sticking out, but they ended up being the BACK feet and we had to pull a calf out! :(
  • > Keep calf pulling chains and handles nearby (see medicine box for description). If you don’t have chains, a piece of twine may suffice. If necessary, you may need to help the cow get the calf out. First, loop a chain around each foot. Make sure the chains are above the dewclaws! Gently but firmly pull until the ribs are showing outside of the cow. Stop, let the calf breathe a few beats, then finish pulling out. Make sure calf is breathing well, remove sac, and stand back to let mother take over!


    • Cow calves, cow should get up and start cleaning calf. She may eat her placenta (if there are any concerns about disease, remove the placenta so she cannot eat it) Generally, the calf can stay with the mother for a few hours, at least until the calf is clean and dry. If you want, you can take clean towels and help dry the calf. If the cow is NOT getting up to help her calf, then clean the mouth and make sure the calf is breathing. Dry the body with towels and move the calf toward the mother. Hopefully, she will take interest within a few minutes. If she is trampling around and seems dangerous to the calf, remove the calf immediately.
    • Dip navel of calf to prevent transmission of disease.
    • Always feed the calf a bottle of milk as soon as possible (regardless of whether you are going to keep the calf on the mom or not, you need to make sure the calf gets colostrum within the first few hours of birth and they can’t always find the teat right away on their own). Take a bottle and start milking all quarters of the cow to get a full bottle of colostrum. Feed to calf; try to get calf to drink half or the entire bottle. If the calf does not drink a whole bottle, then attempt another whole bottle 4-6 hours later.

When to milk the cow?

First, milk enough for baby into bottle. You can choose when to milk the cow after that. If she is spraying milk everywhere, then you can try to milk her right away, but don’t be disappointed if you only get half a gallon or less. Try again in a few hours (4-8). Then work with timing to get her on her normal 12 hour routine. For the first week, if you have the ability to milk three times a day, this will reduce edema/swelling much more quickly and will provide more relief to the cow while she is so swelled up.

After care:

  • Move calf to its own pen. A dome is an ideal “home” for a young calf to prevent cross-contamination between animals and because it provides a very stable constant warm temperature.
  • Then put calf on a regular feeding routine. Colostrum should be given for three feedings to ensure they have received the full amount of nutrients to begin their life. This is essential if you want your calf to live.
  • Do not plan to make cheese until all the colostrum is removed from the milk. Best to wait about a week.
  • Watch for signs of problems (see Medicine Kit for more information). Immediate action is needed if you detect milk fever.
  • If a bull calf, the easiest method of castration is by banding at about a week old. You can buy a little hand-held bander and get little rubber bands (look like cheerios). An easy method is to have one person feed the calf a bottle of milk while the other person puts on the band. Make sure you have two oysters!!
  • For ease of handling, start the calf out on a halter at a very young age. Train them to walk with you anywhere, then when they become big, they will be easy to handle in any situation.

To help with edema (swelling):

Rub the udder with creams to increase blood flow. Be sure to rub firmly along the crease to keep the crease from stretching or tearing. Many new cow owners see BLOOD in the milk and immediately think mastitis. Rather, the swelling has caused blood vessels to burst and the blood is mingled with the milk. Frequent milking, massaging, and a few days will clear up that problem with no harm to the cow. More on EDEMA:

Calving Management:

An Article by Sheila McGuirk, DVM on checking fresh cows:

3 thoughts on “Calving Preparation

  1. Pingback: Heat Detection and Breeding Dairy Cows using A.I. | Spirited Rose Farm

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