You may believe that you have plenty of time before your cow gives birth, but it's better to be ready early. Your cow could give birth a few weeks before her calculated due date, so don't put off equipping yourself for birthings. Before your cows calve this year, have these things on hand to be prepared to take care of the calf.
First choice is colostrum from the calf's own mother. However, some mother cows are not about to stand there and allow you to milk colostrum from their udders. Additionally, the mother may not have any colostrum in the case of a premature birth, or she could die birthing the calf. In that case, frozen colostrum from another cow is a good substitute. Defrost the container of colostrum in a saucepan of warm water on the stove but don't boil it. Shake the jar frequently to keep the outer edge of colostrum from overheating. (Don't use the microwave. It can damage the antibodies present in the colostrum.)
If you can't get colostrum from another cow, you can also buy some commercial colostrum replacements. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation, because the quality of these products can vary.
2. Ear Tags
It's best if you can ear tag your calves the day of birth or the day after birth. If you don't get to this chore in the first day or two, you will have a much more difficult time catching the calves to tag them. Tagging calves will help you sort out which calves belong to which mother. This is an important thing to know, because you will then know which cows are your most productive ones. When you are deciding which cows to cull, having a written record of the best mothers will help you make the decision.
3. Castration Bands
If you plan on making the bull calves steers and don't want to have to castrate surgically, go ahead and have elastration bands and an elastrator available. If you can do this procedure when the calf is just a day or two old, it is a whole lot easier.
4. Calf Electrolyte Solution
In the first week of life, calves are assaulted by all kinds of bacteria. Most of the time, the mother's milk will help him survive with no ill effects. However, when a new calf gets diarrhea, he can go downhill very quickly. You will need electrolytes to keep the calf hydrated until he can fight off the bug. If your calf gets sick at eight at night, he can be extremely ill by the time the veterinary supply store opens the next morning. Electrolyte solution comes in a powdered mix that keeps for a long time, so there's no reason not to have a stash of this stuff just in case you need it.
5. Esophageal Feeder
If a calf has a traumatic birth, he may be sluggish, tired, and lethargic. He needs a jolt of his mother's colostrum to have the energy to survive. However, if he's too tired and weak to stand to nurse, you will have to force feed him colostrum. If he won't suck on a calf bottle, you will need to gently insert a tube down his esophagus and dribble his first feeding into his stomach. Often, that first feeding will give him the energy he needs to get up and nurse in just a couple hours.
6. A Calf Nursing Bottle
If the cow dies in birth or can't get up right away to nurse, you will need a way to feed the calf. A nursing bottle will give the calf his first meal. If you already have a bottle, double check that the nipple is in good shape. The rubber can crack if it gets too old, and you don't want to discover that the bottle is damaged in some way in the middle of the night.
Calving time is one of the most exciting times on our farm. Of course, most of the time everything goes perfectly and we don't need some of these things, but it never hurts to be prepared for an unexpected event.