Ready, steady… calving

With calving just around the corner, prior planning will prevent burnout and reduce stress for your staff.

By Sheryl Haitana

Have you got meals in the freezer and the pantry stocked? Are the calf sheds cleaned out? Have your organised fair staff rosters?

With calving just around the corner, prior planning will prevent burnout and reduce stress for your staff.

Don’t leave jobs to the last minute, like getting the new calf shed shavings delivered three weeks after the calves start hitting the ground.

Getting staff prepared for calving is also crucial. Make sure they are upskilled and new staff are orientated with your farm and procedures.

Putting your team (that includes you and your staff) first, then the results will follow – the calves will be cared for, the cows milked, the pasture and feed managed – and with less stress and greater ease than when you focused on ‘tasks first’.

DairyNZ has plenty of information and videos on getting prepared for calving, help with rosters, getting staff settled into their new job, and also a spring survival guide. Visit www.


Here are a few simple actions that you can do as a manager to help build the platform for a successful calving:

  • Get your team involved
  • Make sure your roster is achievable
  • Discuss and plan any upskilling your team members will need
  • Ensure all the appropriate PPE gear and tools are available for your team
  • Make sure the whole team is eating well
  • Share what goes through your head as a manager
  • Hold regular team meetings
  • Work as a team and lead by example
  • Watch for signs of stress and fatigue
  • Keep timesheets for all employees
  • Keep talking, coaching, and providing feedback – celebrate success
  • Are you and your staff fit and ready to run around picking up calves? Research shows a lot of farmers are great at looking after their stock, but often neglect their own diet. Having the right ‘fuel in the tank’ is essential to keep you going through the day. When farmers are busy or stressed, eating well is even more important to stop them getting sick and provide the energy and nutrients they need for their physical and emotional health. Nutritionist Sarah Percy worked with Farmstrong on practical tips on how to eat well and maintain energy levels when you’re going hard-out during the busy season.
  • Create a food bank – When you cook a casserole or soup, cook a double or triple batch and freeze half.
  • Stock the pantry – Have plenty of quick options such as tinned fish, tinned tomatoes, frozen veggies, rice and potatoes so that a balanced meal can be whipped up from pantry items.
  • Cook once, eat twice – Do a double batch of your meal and use the leftovers in a different dish the next day.
  • Remember to snack – When you are doing physical work throughout the day regular snacks are important to top up the fuel in your body and maintain your energy levels. Keep snacks in the glove box of your ute, take a backpack if you are heading out on the farm on foot or leave food at strategic places on the farm, so you don’t get caught short.
  • Grab a break – Coming in for a break also creates the perfect opportunity to have a nourishing snack to keep you going for longer. Along with a cuppa, grab a healthy snack.
  • Stay hydrated and stick to water – You need to prioritise drinking water – coffee, tea, caffeinated soft drinks, and energy drinks all contain caffeine which is a diuretic so they dehydrate the body. So, if you are a tea or coffee drinker, have a drink of water while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil.
  • Look after yourself – Remember, the number one asset on any farm is the farmer and the people who work for you. Eating well can bring real benefits to your business.
  • For more tips and information on getting fit for calving this season visit

Getting cows off winter crop

Once cows are close to calving, drafting them off crop and back onto pasture is important for a few reasons.

Mineral imbalances in some crops can cause an increase in metabolic diseases, like milk fever.

A cleaner calving environment reduces the risk of infection for both cow and calf.

The calf needs to get the required ‘liquid gold’ colostrum from their mum – this is more likely on solid ground and not having to choose to shelter over feed, due to any wet paddock conditions.

It’s worth using all the information you have available to observe cows close to calving. Daily observation of animal signs such as ‘springing up’ and swollen vulvas, alongside their expected calving dates, will ensure cows are removed from crop promptly and are able to calve in the right conditions.


Calving in a paddock with shelter gives calves a good start in life, providing more comfort and warmth to benefit their health. If calves are too cold, they are less likely to stand up to drink that precious colostrum from their mother.

Providing a safe and sheltered environment for cows to calve on will give them the best start to their lactation, improve general health and reduce the risk of future mastitis.


Southland farmers Suzanne and Maurice Hanning tap into their knowledge of their farm for their wintering approach. The Hanning’s farm currently has 650 cows on its 230ha and nearby support block.

They have their calving set up planned with their animals at the heart of their farm decisions. Suzanne explains that calving on crop is something they take steps to avoid.

“To avoid calving on crop, when we dry off we put our cows into calving mobs based on scanning information and artificial breeding dates. These mobs have around 120 or 130 cows per group.

“We check our cows at least twice a day, every day, to see if any of the animals are showing calving signs. Often the person moving the back fence checks all the cows, casting their eye down their row to see who could be close. Then we are able to decide if any cow needs to be moved.”

Now is an important time for us all to be considering what changes can be made onfarm, so we can make a difference this winter.

  • More at