One of the questions that I get asked most often in my work with cattle and with the youth is What is calving ease? If you are not familiar with EPDs or havent been around cattle much some of these terms that everyone throws out can be intimidating and you just dont want to look stupid by asking. But it is important for us to be continually teaching and helping the younger generation to learn these things and for us to always be brushing up on our knowledge no matter how long we have been doing it.
Ask any mother if giving birth was “easy”. It’s likely this will not be her choice word to describe the experience. Difficult calvings, or dystocia, pose a particular problem not only in terms of pain, but also in terms of the future productivity of the dam and calf.
Economically, ease of calving is one of the most important factors for future profit, especially for first-calf heifers. A high incidence of difficult calvings can reduce herd profitability through increased direct and indirect costs. Direct costs are veterinary fees, cow or calf death and extra labor. Indirect costs aren’t as clear-cut, but could include decreased reproductive performance, milk yield and calf health as well as a reduced future productivity of the newborn.
More than half (51.2%) of calves born to first lactation heifers, compared with 29.4% of calves born to second lactation and greater cows, required assistance during calving (1).
In the US, it’s estimated that around 30% of first calf heifers and 20% of cows second lactation and greater require calving assistance. Rates have been known to be much higher in certain research due to the fact that the definitions of dystocia and calving ease scores vary among countries.
So, how do we better take care of our animals and make the calving process easier. We need to be diligent about our research into the sires that we use and make sure that they have a proven track record of not just low birth weights being thrown off but also how many of those calvings were unassisted out of first and second calf heifers. We also need to make sure that we are looking at birth weights of the dams. All too often it is overlooked as a key part of the equation. And lastly, we need to be mindful of the nutrition that our heifers are getting in that last trimester of gestation.
Next time that someone asks you what is calving ease? Lets make sure that we are stressing the importance of what it means to the industry. It is by far one of the easiest ways that we as producers can affect the bottom line of our operation.