First and foremost, it is important to have cows on a good plane of nutrition at calving time. Cows should calve with a body condition score of 5. When this takes place calf health and survival is at its best. Good cow nutrition equates to good recovery by the cow and adequate colostrum and a healthy start for the baby calf. Ideally, a calving season should be in place so that adequate attention can be given to the cow herd during this time. If calving is spread out over the entire year then many problems can occur and go unnoticed until it is too late. In addition, a set calving season also allows for the timely processing of baby calves. Assuming that the cows are being checked daily, it becomes a rather routine procedure to handle the baby calf. The following can be accomplished with a day old calf in a matter of minutes.
Catch and Restraint. It is much easier to catch a day old calf than to catch a 500 pound calf. Assuming that calving is not taking place in a 100 acre woodland it is fairly easy to drive up close to a baby calf and catch him. Once caught the simplest restraint method is to tie the two front feet and one rear foot together with a short length of small rope or string. The only "hitch" in this procedure is the willingness or unwillingness to cooperate by mamma. Never turn your back on the cow because even the most gentle of cows can become aggressive when you grab her calf and he lets out a distressful bawl. It may be best to put the calf in the back of the truck. Also be aware that a cow can get into the back of the truck if she wants to bad enough!
Identification. Once the calf is restrained, the processing can be begin with some sort of identification. In most cases, this simply involves placing a tag in the calf's ear. It is best to have some sort of a numbering system that is logical and possibly placing the tag in a particular ear to indicate the sex. For example, the first calf born in 2006 would be given the number 601 and it is placed in the right ear to indicate a male and the left ear to indicate a female. In some cases, tattooing or some other means of individual identification may also be employed at this time. This is an ideal time to tag the calf because there is no question about who the dam is and the ear is small and tender thus easy to place the tag in the correct location.
Navel. This is the time that the navel should be disinfected by dipping the remainder of the umbilical cord into an iodine solution. Although navel ill is fairly uncommon when calves are born on clean pastures it is a good preventative practice to disinfect the navel cord.
Castration. All of the male calves that are fed for slaughter in the US. will be castrated before they enter the large commercial feedyards. Because of the lost performance and health problems associated with castrating older bulls a premium price ($3 to $5/cwt) is paid for steers compared to bulls at the weekly auction markets. Thus, the optimal time for castrating a male calf is when he is a day old. At this point in his life it is a very minor procedure and the calf experiences no setback in production. With the use of a sharp knife cut off the bottom third of the scrotum and then simply pull the testicles out and allow the cord to tear, do not cut the cords. There will be very minimal blood loss and with an application of the iodine solution it would be a rare occasion to experience any problems associated with the castration procedure.
Take Home Message. Frequent observation during calving season allows for the easy processing of newborn calves. Newborn calves can be quickly caught, tagged, and castrated while they are easy to handle. When castrated at this age it is a very minor procedure and the calf gets off to a healthy start in life.