Category Archives: FAQ: Cattle

Helping the Newborn Calf Breathe

by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist

Despite our best efforts at bull selection and heifer development, cows or heifers occasionally need assistance at calving time. Every baby calf has a certain degree of respiratory acidosis. Acidosis is the result of the deprivation of oxygen and the accumulation of carbon dioxide that results from the passage of the calf through the birth canal. The excess of carbon dioxide results in a build-up of lactic acid (therefore the acidosis.)

In order to correct the lack of oxygen and the excess of carbon dioxide and its by-products, the healthy calf will pant vigorously shortly after birth. Some calves, however, may be sluggish and slow to begin this corrective process.

It is imperative that the newborn calf begins to breathe as soon as possible. To stimulate the initiation of the respiratory process, a few ideas may help.

First, manually clear the mouth and nasal passages of fluids and mucus. Hanging the calf over a fence is NOT the best method to accomplish this task. The weight of the calf on the fence restricts the movement of the diaphragm muscle. The fence impairs the diaphragm’s ability to contract and move. This diaphragm activity is necessary to expand the lungs to draw in air and needed oxygen.

A better method is to briskly tickle the inside of the nostrils of the calf with a straw. This will usually cause the calf to have a reflex action such as a “snort” or cough. The reflex cough or “snort” expands the lungs and allows air to enter. Expect the calf to pant rapidly for a few minutes after breathing is initiated. Panting is the natural response that increases oxygen intake and carbon dioxide release and will allow the calf to reach normal blood gas concentrations.

Minis 101: Selecting Your First Purchase

Minis 101: Selecting Your First Purchase

There are many variables to consider when you consider purchasing your first Miniature Hereford. First, you need to decide for what purpose you wish to raise Minis. Secondly, you need to determine the size and quality needed for that purpose. Then you will spend many hours researching various options for acquiring the type of animal you’ve selected, and finally you’ll realize your dream by hauling that special animal or group of animals home.

So why do you want to raise Miniature Herefords? For the kids? Grandkids? For cute lawnmowers in that enormous back yard you’re sick of mowing and fertilizing every summer? What about agricultural tax breaks in your area? Do you want the option of healthy beef for your family? Or maybe you want to shoot for that coveted Grand Champion buckle? Answering these questions will help determine what type of Miniature Hereford would best suit your needs.

If you’re looking for an animal that will do well with youngsters, you might want to consider one that is already halterbroken, and is known to be gentle around children. In this instance, and finances aside, the smallest animal you can find who still meets the temperament requirements would be your best choice, for the sake of safety. Depending on whether or not you wish to encourage your kids to show in 4H, FFA or in the Open shows – you might consider leaning toward a show-quality purchase versus pet-quality.

However, if you’re merely looking for a lawncare replacement, size is most likely not your primary concern; you would research calving ease of the animals and units-per-acre in your area to determine the number of head needed to properly “mow and fertilize” your property with as little intervention as possible.

Agricultural tax breaks are a common reason for investing in Miniature Herefords. In some areas of the country, the cost of purchasing the cattle is more than repaid within a few short years. These laws vary from state to state and county to county so be sure to check the regulations for your area.

Another common reason to invest in Miniature Herefords is for the beef. Miniature cattle do not fit the model for today’s beef production system, so do not expect to sell your cattle the “normal” way for any profit. Instead, you have the option of raising organic, grass-fed or natural beef for your family, friends or community members. The simplest method would be to raise beef for your family alone. Have it processed locally or process it yourself and you can provide for your family great-tasting beef that is far superior to even the highest grade grocery store beef. If you choose to label your beef and sell it, be sure to study the rules and regulations regarding the sale of meats, and the special labeling required.

If you wish to raise Miniature Herefords specifically for the show ring, be sure to obtain the best that money can buy and care for them extra specially well. Of course, we can’t all purchase last year’s grand champion in the hopes she’ll win again this year! So purchase the best animal you can find, remembering that price doesn’t always indicate quality. A well conditioned animal, exquisitely fitted and properly shown will still provide an excellent chance at that banner or buckle, and at the very least you’ll have lots of fun in the process.

Once you’ve determined what your purpose is, or which combination of goals you wish to pursue in the Miniature Hereford adventure, you’ll be able to rule out types of animals that are less likely to suit your agenda. The smaller the frame score (size) of the animal, or the more 0’s they’re said to have, the more expensive they will be. This is because 0000 is the smallest anyone has in any quantity. Try looking for a 00000 animal and you’re going to be searching for a while. You’d better be prepared to write a lot of 0’s on that check if you choose to purchase that animal, if you find him. On the other hand, there are many mid-sized Minis in the frame score 0 to 1 range and you’ll have a far wider selection of type and quality. What size and quality you eventually choose is up to you, your goals, your pocket book, and what is available when you’re ready to buy.

So you’ve now decided on the type of animal that will best suit your needs. How far are you willing to to travel to find this animal? Begin by locating breeders in your area, and if possible, go to see their breeding program in operation. Expand your search as necessary. Whatever you do, be sure you’re working with a reputable breeder when you finally choose to purchase. Common pitfalls are paying show-quality price for a pet-quality animal (so study up on your conformation points, visit shows and don’t hesitate to quiz breeders or your Regional Director) or paying top dollar for a small framed animal only to discover she’s not genetically small framed and won’t produce in kind (so study up on those pedigrees, sire/dam frame scores, and obtain references on prospective breeder-sellers). The more you’ve studied, the better your chances of arriving home with your dream cow.

Remember while shopping that somehow you’ll have to cart your acquisition home. If you have a trailer, no worries. If you don’t, ask the seller if they’ll deliver. And if they can’t or won’t, call your Regional Director to find out if there are any breeders currently hauling who might be able to help you out. Definitely solve the transportation logistics before handing over that down payment.

Whatever your path to first-time ownership, there is nothing quite like opening your trailer door and watching your new red white-face hop out of the trailer and trot down the fence line examining her new surroundings.

Welcome to the world of Miniature Herefords!

Raising and weaning calves

Generally, the Miniature Hereford cow is a very capable mother and can raise her calf without much interference.  The calf should be properly identified and marked early on, and watched closely as he grows.  Vaccinations should be administered as recommended by a trusted veterinarian, keeping your local requirements in mind.  Calves are weaned from 4-6 months of age, depending on breeding practices and the theories of the individual breeder.  Weaning can be a stressful time, so use it to treat the calf well with good hay, mineral, and extra supplementation as he learns to survive without milk.

Mini Hereford History

Miniature Herefords are full blood Herefords.  They are simply not as tall as the normal, ordinary Hereford you usually see today.  The Miniatures are registered with the American Hereford Association, just like their large counterparts; and their pedigrees within the AHA trace all the way back to when the Hereford cow first set foot on American soil.

Herefords have come a long way since they first arrived in the United States, and they have repeatedly proven their hardiness, adaptability to any environment in which they are placed, and their ease of gaining weight to produce high quality beef.  Because of these special traits, the Hereford is primarily a beef animal, and the Miniatures are not so different.

Miniature Herefords, because of their smaller size, are much easier to handle than large cattle.  They require less space for comfortable living quarters, and they eat far less food.  Because of this, they make great backyard pets and can even help obtain agricultural tax exempt status.

Extremely docile in nature, the Minis are excellent for children.  A superb 4H or FFA animal, they can help instill responsibility and a sense of accomplishment in a youngster.

How many more reasons do you need?

What kind of Starter Package should I buy?

That really depends on you.  Do you want show quality?  Are you looking for cute lawnmowers?  Something for the grandkids?  Beef for your family?  These questions need to be carefully considered, and the answers will help you determine what kind of animals will best suit your needs.How many animals you get depends greatly on how much you’re willing to invest, and how much pasture you have available.  One bull with two heifers is a popular starting point.  Smaller animals will cost more than the larger Miniatures, simply because there are so few of them.  Breeders producing the smallest Miniature Herefords are likely to want to keep them in their own herds for breeding purposes.  However, when the small cow has nearly reached the end of her productive life, she can most likely be purchased for far less than if she were in her prime.  If she’s purchased bred, the chances of obtaining one or two very tiny, high quality calves are pretty good, and that can jump-start your breeding program.

How big are they really?

Most breeders will list either a Mature Frame Score or current height along with an animal’s sale statistics.  Frame Score charts should be easily available to convert the Frame Score into inches, and then you should probably get out your tape measure.  45 inches tall may not sound like much, but when you add two feet of width, almost 1000 pounds of beef all wrapped in a hairy hide, they can be larger than you thought.  Miniature Herefords are roughly half the size of their Modern counterparts, but they are still cattle.  For information on Frame Scores, see How do I measure my Mini?

Will my pasture be suitable?

Miniature Herefords do extremely well in just about any environment.  So long as the pasture has a decent fence, and ample feed inside, the cattle should stay where they belong.  The quality necessary for the fence depends on your location and terrain.  If your pasture is alongside a busy interstate highway, you probably want to have a really high quality fence between your grass-eating investment and the oncoming traffic.  In general, Miniature Herefords will respect a fence that just about any other breed of cattle would march right through.

What kind of handling equipment will I need?

This depends greatly on how many head of Miniature Herefords you are planning to raise.  If you have two or three pets, chances are you won’t need much more than a good halter and a couple panels for restricting movement.  On the other hand, if you plan to grow your breeding operation to substantial numbers, you will probably want to invest in a good handling facility for safety.

What about a Bull?

Miniature Hereford Bulls are extremely docile.  Yes, every other beef breed says the same thing about their bulls.  Everything is relative, and the Miniature Hereford bull is on the extremely gentle side of the relative scale.  Especially a bull that has been halter broken, treated kindly or fitted for show.

What kind of hay and supplements should I offer?

Miniature Herefords do not require overly rich feed.  Simple pasture is best for them, with occasional supplementation as needed according to your location, climate and acreage.  Grass hay is best.  Alfalfa cubes or hay should be fed sparingly, as too much rich feed can result in decreased fertility due to over fatness.  Clean water should be available at all times, as well as a good salt lick and mineral block.

How do I measure my Mini?

Minis are measured across their hip, at the highest point.  The idea being that a 43 inch tall Miniature Hereford should be able to just barely walk under a 43 inch high bar.  Measuring at the hip has proven to be more accurate than shoulder or wither measurements.

A measuring stick can be purchased, or built from PVC pipe.  This measuring stick should have an “arm” that can be gently lowered over the back of a Mini, while the foot of the stick is set firmly on level ground. The frame chart shown below was created by the Miniature Hereford Breeders Association and the American Hereford Association by continuing the AHA chart downward. There are some discrepancies however, as some of the Miniature Hereford cattle mature at an earlier age, and thus their growth is not consistent with the chart during the growth period, but should mature at the designated point.

COWS Age/months BULLS
0000 000 00 0 1 0000 000 00 0 1
26.5 28.5 30.5 32.5 34.5 6 27 29 31 33 35
27.25 29.25 31.25 33.25 35.25 7 28 30 32 34 36
28 30 32 34 36 8 29 31 33 35 37
28.75 30.75 32.75 34.75 36.75 9 30 32 34 36 38
29.5 31.5 33.5 35.5 37.5 10 31 33 35 37 39
30.25 32.25 34.25 36.25 38.25 11 32 34 36 38 40
31 33 35 37 39 12 33 35 37 39 41
31.5 33.5 35.5 37.5 39.5 13 33.75 35.75 37.75 39.75 41.75
32.25 34.25 36.25 38.25 40.25 14 34.5 36.5 38.5 40.5 42.5
32.75 34.75 36.75 38.75 40.75 15 35 37 39 41 43
33.25 35.25 37.25 39.25 41.25 16 35.5 37.5 39.5 41.5 43.5
33.75 35.75 37.75 39.75 41.75 17 35.75 37.75 39.75 41.75 43.75
34 36 38 40 42 18 36 38 40 42 44
34.25 36.25 38.25 40.25 42.25 19 36.25 38.25 40.25 42.25 44.25
34.5 36.5 38.5 40.5 42.5 20 36.5 38.5 40.5 42.5 44.5
34.75 36.75 38.75 40.75 42.75 21 36.75 38.75 40.75 42.75 44.75
35 37 39 41 43 22 37 39 41 43 45
35.25 37.25 39.25 41.25 43.25 23 37.25 39.25 41.25 43.25 45.25
35.5 37.5 39.5 41.5 43.5 24 37.5 39.5 41.5 43.5 45.5
36 38 40 42 44 2 years 39 41 43 45 47
37 39 41 43 45 3 years 40 42 44 46 48

Gestation Table

Service Date Calving Date
January 1 October 11
January 8 October 18
January 15 October 25
January 29 November 8
February 1 November 11
February 8 November 18
February 15 November 25
February 22 December 2
February 28 December 8
March 1 December 9
March 8 December 16
March 15 December 23
March 22 December 30
March 29 January 6
April 1 January 9
April 8 January 16
April 15 January 23
April 22 January 30
April 29 February 6
May 1 February 8
May 8 February 18
May 15 February 22
May 22 February 29
May 29 March 8
June 1 March 11
June 8 March 18
June 15 March 25
June 22 April 1
June 29 April 8
July 1 April 10
July 8 April 17
July 15 April 24
July 22 May 1
July 29 May 8
August 1 May 11
August 8 May 18
August 15 May 25
August 22 June 1
August 29 June 8
September 1 June 11
September 8 June 18
September 15 June 25
September 22 July 2
September 29 July 9
October 1 July 11
October 8 July 18
October 15 July 25
October 22 August 1
October 29 August 8
November 1 August 11
November 8 August 18
November 15 August 25
November 22 September 1
November 29 September 8
December 1 September 10
December 8 September 17
December 15 September 24
December 22 October 1
December 29 October 8

What do I need to know for Calving Season?

For starters, experience is something that is acquired over a period of time. General knowledge of cattle and their anatomical make up is helpful, but that too will come with time. If you can find a book on birthing cattle, this would be a wise choice of information to add to your library. Read & reread the chapters on the correct position of the calf prior to delivery so you know what to expect & can detect any deviance from that. In the case of any abnormal position, call your vet & let him know what the situation is. If you can find a video tape of calving, that too could be helpful, you will want to watch it several times and again each year prior to calving just so you remember when to do what.

A list of supplies to have on hand (even for the most experienced or inexperienced) includes:

Your Vet’s phone # and your mobile phone – The MOST important thing to have on hand, especially for breeders with little or no experience. Do not hesitate, call your vet if you have a question or it appears the cow is having trouble. It is better to have a vet bill to pay than not have a live calf, or lose your cow.

Patience – This is the second most important thing to have on hand. Cows will calve when THEY are ready, often times at times most inconvenient for the cowman. Be patient, especially with the laboring cow, and all will work much better.

Latex gloves/vet sleeves – Always put gloves on before working inside the cow (putting straps or chains on the calf’s feet). Use them only once & dispose of them, reuse can cause contamination & infection.

KY or Lubricating jelly – Clean the back end of the cow with a mild soap and warm water before assisting with a delivery. Use a generous amount of lubricating jelly on latex glove/vet sleeve prior to entering the birthing canal of the cow.

OB calving straps or chains – Used to assist in the delivery of calves. Hooked to the front legs above the joint for best results.

Gentle iodine – In a spray bottle, to spray the navel cord after birth to reduce the possibility of infection & speed the drying of the cord.

Towels – Old bath towels, clean & dry (no fabric softener) to wipe off calves or hands after helping with the delivery if needed.

Powdered colostrum – A dry powder form of colostrum to give to the calf if the mom won’t let it nurse or if the calf is not strong enough to get up & nurse. Mix as directed, but remember your calf is probably 1/2 the size of standard calves at birth, so they will not require a large amount (about a pint will usually be enough for the first time). The old timers recommend the calf have colostrum within the first 2 hours of life for best immunity against possible disease.

Bottle & nipple – For miniature cattle, a pop bottle and a sheep nipple work really well. A regular calf nipple is good to have also & a bottle it will fit. I have improvised & used small juice bottles and calf nipples for calves.

Blanket/quilt – During early calving (Feb/Mar) sometimes calves need a little extra warmth, if not the calf, the cowman sometimes needs the blanket /quilt to keep warm while waiting for the calf to arrive. Coffee and/or hot chocolate are good too @ 2 a.m. when the thermometer is reading about +20 and the water bag is visible, or possibly even the feet, but no rapid progress is being made.

Clean Straw – To bed the calving area (Kansas straw is especially good), a few bales to sit on are handy too.

Help – If by chance your spouse, child or significant other can be convinced to sit with you & wait, a helping hand is often welcome at critical moments, but remember the patience here too. Especially if you have more than one calf expected during your calving season, loss of patience could leave you alone in the calving barn for the next time.

Calving is a major part of the cow business, and being as well prepared for it as you can will make it much more pleasant and successful. Read, study, ask questions, call the vet, do what ever you have to do to make yourself comfortable with the process. Each birth is a new experience, here’s wishing each of you a successful calving season!

When to Assist the Cow During Calving

By Jeffery S. Claborn DVM

How long do we wait on this cow Doc? A question I have heard many times from new people entering the cattle business & experienced cattlemen. A basic knowledge of the physiologic steps occurring within the cow at calving time aids in determining the time to assist.

There are 3 stages of parturition. The first stage involves the initiation of uterine contractions that result in dilation of the cervix. The calf has not entered the pelvis at this point and is relatively free from harm. Stage 1 usually lasts a few hours, but can last up to 24 hours.

Stage 2 begins as the calf enters the pelvis (birth canal). The chorioallantoic membrane (water-bag) breaks and the calf is generally delivered within a few hours.

Stage 3 involves the expulsion of afterbirth. Cows that have not passed the afterbirth by 72 hours post-calving need to be cleaned and medicated. If the cow appears to be sick, removal of afterbirth and medicating is done sooner. It is during Stage 2 that the calf is most vulnerable to hypoxia (low oxygen) and pressures resulting in facial/throat swelling. With this in mind, the following guidelines can be applied to determine when to assist with delivery:

1) The water-bag has just started to protrude from the cow- If the cow is not pushing or showing any signs of labor, a 5 hour waiting period is generally acceptable. However, the 5 hour wait period is over if the cow proceeds to pushing and straining.

2) If no progress occurs within 30 minutes of active labor, it is time to assist. Always clean the vulva of the cow with soap & water or a disinfectant, and wear disposable plastic sleeves that have been lubricated prior to reaching into the birth canal.

3) If the toes are turned downward, it is time to assist. The calf is either in a posterior presentation (backwards) or it is turned upside down. A backwards calf does not survive very long in the birth canal as pressure is put on the umbilical cord early in the delivery process.

4) Breech presentations (backwards calf that is sitting on hind legs) can pose problems. The calf may not reach far enough into the birth canal to initiate stage 2 of parturition. Hence, the cow does not go into labor and the calf may die before the problem is realized. So often times if a cow is standing off alone, tail elevated and we are not sure if a problem exists, we will perform a pelvic exam after 10 – 12 hours.

These are basic guidelines and individual variations may occur. Consult with your local Veterinarian as questions develop.

Good luck & here’s hoping you each have a successful calving season!

Tagging and Tattooing

Calves must be permanently marked with a tattoo before they are eligible to be registered with the American Hereford Association.

Tattoos are usually placed in the ear.  The tattooing equipment can be found at your local livestock supply and feed store, or you can purchase them online.

For some of the smaller, younger Mini calves, the 3/8″ tattoo digits are too large for their ear, so you might consider purchasing a smaller set, either the 5/16″ or the #300 sizes for goats or small animals.  Differing theories on tattooing calves indicate to rub ink in the ear before applying the tattoo, or after.  So long as the ink is well rubbed into the small punctures, the tattoo should be legible throughout the animal’s life.