Before the first heifer begins the calving process this spring, it would be wise to review what takes place in a normal delivery. Understanding “normal” will help us better recognize problems when they occur and therefore provide assistance when necessary.

 

STAGE 1

The first stage of parturition is dilation of the cervix. The normal cervix is tightly closed right up until the cervical plug is completely dissolved. In stage 1, cervical dilation begins some four to 24 hours before the completion of parturition. During this time the “progesterone block” is no longer present and the uterine muscles are becoming more sensitive to all factors that increase the rate and strength of contractions. At the beginning, the contractile forces primarily influence the relaxation of the cervix but uterine muscular activity is still rather quiet. Stage 1 is likely to go completely unnoticed, but there may be some behavioral differences such as isolation or discomfort. At the end of stage one, there may be come behavioral changes such as elevation of the tail, switching of the tail and increased mucous discharge. Before “pulling” a calf in stage 2, it is imperative that stage 1 (cervical dilation) is complete.

 

STAGE 2

The second stage of parturition is defined as the delivery of the newborn. It begins with the entrance of the membranes and fetus into the pelvic canal and ends with the completed birth of the calf. So the second stage is the one in which we really are interested. This is where all the action is. Clinically, and from a practical aspect we would define it as the appearance of membranes or water bag at the vulva. The traditional texts, fact sheets, magazines, and other publications that we read state that stage 2 in cattle lasts from two to four hours. Data from Oklahoma State University and the USDA experiment station at Miles City, Montana, would indicate that stage two is much shorter being approximately 60 minutes for heifers and 30 minutes for cows. In these studies, assistance was given if stage two progressed more than two hours after the appearance of water bag at the vulva. The interesting thing about the data was that heifers calving unassisted did so in an hour after the initiation of stage two and cows did so within 30 minutes of the initiation of stage two. Those that took longer needed assistance. These and other data would indicate that normal stage two of parturition would be redefined as approximately 60 minutes for heifers and 30 minutes for adult cows. In heifers, not only is the pelvic opening smaller, but also the soft tissue has never been expanded. Older cows have had deliveries before and birth should go quite rapidly unless there is some abnormality such as a very large calf, backwards calf, leg back or twins.

 

STAGE 3

The third stage of parturition is the shedding of the placenta or fetal membranes. In cattle this normally occurs in less than 8-12 hours. The membranes are considered retained if after 12 hours they have not been shed. Years ago it was considered necessary to remove the membranes by manually “unbuttoning” the attachments. Research has shown that manual removal is detrimental to uterine health and future conception rates. Administration of antibiotics usually will guard against infection and the placenta will slough out in four to seven days. Contact your veterinarian for the proper management of retained placenta.

 

WHAT TO PLANT THIS SPRING

I have heard nothing but bad stories about sugarcane aphid and sorghums this past few months. So far I have not had a single person excited about the prospects of planting a forage sorghum or sorghum sudangrass simply because they know the aphid will damage the crop quickly.

All this concern has led growers to ask the question, “is there something else?” Fortunately we might have another hay/grazing crop to plant in MR Millet. Millet has a bad reputations with growers since cattle don’t eat it well, yields are lower than with sorghums and seed cost is a little higher. That being said there has been a lot of research over the last few years to introduce the Brown Mid-Rib trait into pearl millet species. BMR traits mean higher quality which translate into better cattle acceptance and even better weight gains.

Why plant a pearl millet? First and foremost is that pearl millet is completely resistant to sugarcane aphid. They don’t like it! Second it is easy to grow like all our sorghums. Now, with the BMR trait we have a plant that cattle like, producers well and growers don’t have to worry about having to spray for sugarcane aphid control.

Bermudagrass, a staple forage in Southern forage programs, comes in a couple of primary flavors: common and hybrid. From a productivity standpoint, hybrids are the preferred option but they possess a physiological trait uncommon to most forage species — little or no viable seed is produced.

Hybrid varieties such as Coastal, Tifton 85, Tifton 44 and Jiggs must be established by sprigging, the process of planting green plant material (including stolons and rhizomes) into a prepared seedbed. It’s a process much different than dumping a bag of seed into the grain drill.

There are three proven methods of hybrid bermudagrass establishment. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Dormant sprigs can be planted January through March. It’s less risky if you wait until at least February. This reduces the competition from winter weeds and, more importantly, helps minimize the risk for winter injury.

With dormant sprigging, 40 to 70 bushels of viable sprigs per acre need to be planted and covered with at least 2 inches of soil; this helps protect the dormant sprigs from freezing. Even so, expect 50 percent or more of the sprigs not to emerge. Dormant sprigs need to come from fields that were managed in the fall for maximum root reserves. This can be accomplished by not cutting or grazing fields after early September.

Waiting to plant sprigs after the threat of a freeze has passed offers another establishment option. Spring sprigs that have green tops and stolons can be planted up until August. The earlier you plant, the better your chances for the stand to establish and survive the first winter.

Preferably the early planting option but cautions that planting too early, March to early April, is stressful on sprigs that have just come out of winter. Root reserves are initially low, so make sure the sprigs are vigorous and healthy before digging. Planting sprigs with green leaves and stolons helps ensure sprig survival, suggested planting rate of 40 to 70 bushels per acre.

The final sprigging option is to plant green tops (stolons). This is done during the summer (June and July) with stolons that are 18 to 24 inches in length and having six or more nodes. The best success with this method has been experienced with Tifton 85, while results with Tifton 44 are more variable.

Establishing hybrid bermudagrass with green tops is accomplished by spreading the plant material on top of a prepared seedbed, then lightly disking them into the soil; finish by firming the soil with a cultipacker.

Fields that are used to harvest tops need to be cut and immediately baled. The bales, small square or round, should be quickly spread on the seedbed to prevent them from overheating and dying before being planted. Green tops can be spread by hand or by using a tops spreader when small square bales are used.