Beef Cattle Research Council, www.BeefResearch.ca
As calving season gets underway for Canadian beef cattle producers, an abundance of sleepless nights can be expected to come with it. Cows will be calving around the clock, leaving little leeway if anything goes wrong. Careful planning becomes important, not only to help calves hit the ground healthy but also in benefiting producers, both physically and mentally, when dealing with the stresses of the calving season.
Cynthia Beck, an active cattle rancher, provisionally registered psychologist in Saskatchewan and volunteer director for Sask Ag Matters Mental Health Network, says taking the time to prepare prior to the busy season is well worth it. “For many producers, myself included, we run into a tough time at calving, and I think most of us attribute the difficulty to stress and exhaustion. Yet not many producers know there are things we can do to proactively help ourselves get through calving while maintaining both our physical and our mental health,” she explains.
Take the Time to Prepare
Beck, along with her husband, manages a 400-head cowherd in southern Saskatchewan. Taking the time to be prepared can decrease a lot of the stress and workload of this busy season, she says. It can be as simple as taking 10-15 minutes to locate the necessary accessories needed to assist with a difficult calving, disinfecting this equipment and storing it in a central location that everyone is aware of. Test tools such as flashlights and make sure the calf puller is working correctly.
Preparing calving sites ahead of time reduces the workload when calving starts and benefits by helping maintain cow and calf health. Given that calving facilities have not been in use over the past 9-10 months, it is recommended to check all equipment and fix any items that need repair. Calving facilities should be clean and dry with sufficient lighting.
Adequate wind protection should be provided along with fresh bedding, as wet, muddy conditions create a stressful environment for both the cow and calf. Likewise, pathogens, such as those responsible for scours, can accumulate in these types of conditions. Have enough bedding brought in or put up and stored in an easily accessible location. The availability of feed and bedding has been a challenge in recent years for producers in some parts of the country due to extreme weather conditions or drought. However, clean, dry bedding is an important aspect of biosecurity during calving.
For producers calving in the winter months, it is essential to have a plan in place for warming calves during cold weather. Cold, wet conditions can quickly lead to hypothermia. Therefore, having the equipment and tools on hand to deal with this type of situation can quickly minimize calf losses.
Calves are born with virtually no immunity of their own which means that they must receive their initial immunity from antibody-rich colostrum. Therefore, a newborn calf must receive adequate colostrum within the first 12 hours of life. Having necessary supplies, such as colostrum supplements and/or replacements, on hand, Beck says, will help alleviate some stress as many producers have long distances to travel to purchase these items.
Support the #1 Farm Asset
Self-maintenance may not be at the forefront of many producers’ minds as they prepare for, and navigate their way through, calving season. However, Beck advises producers that they “are the number one asset on the farm and without them, the machinery doesn’t run and the cows don’t feed themselves.”
“Producers are the number one asset on the farm and without them, the machinery doesn’t run and the cows don’t feed themselves.”
— Cynthia Beck, director for Sask Ag Matters Mental Health Network
Her top three self-maintenance tips for producers to protect their physical, emotional and mental well-being during calving are:
- Drink plenty of water.
- Fuel your body with nutritious food.
- Sleep when you can.
“These basic self-maintenance actions will help producers with so many different things during the stress of calving,” says Beck. For example, she points out that when individuals are properly hydrated, they will automatically have clearer thinking, better emotional regulation and improved decision-making skills. The same can be said for sleep as a lack of sleep is linked to increased risk-taking behaviours and lower safety behaviours along with reduced productivity, she explains.
Meal planning is another method of helping to reduce stress and anxiety. When people feel overwhelmed, the ability to make healthy choices can be compromised. This becomes even more important when producers run an operation by themselves. “In this situation, not only are they responsible for feeding the herd, doing herd health, herd maintenance and calving, but they are also responsible for feeding themselves,” says Beck. She suggests that these producers take the time to purchase food or prepare balanced meals in advance that are ready to eat during the calving season.
Beck points out that communication is another key aspect of elevating producers’ well-being, particularly if they are working with others. She says it is important to remember there are other people that can help. Being able to speak up and explain areas where you are struggling and need a hand brings benefits for multiple areas of a cattle operation.
Be Proactive, but Flexible
Being proactive is key. However, Beck says it is important to realize you can’t plan for everything. And when things do not go as planned, this can create another level of stress for producers. Making the appropriate preparations ahead of time can help minimize calf losses and reduce the stresses for those involved in this busy season.
Sometimes help isn’t just needed for your herd. When the stress of calving season becomes overwhelming, please reach out to your community or professionals for mental health support. The Do More Agriculture Foundation website has many great resources, call line numbers, and ag support groups.