Ask the Vet

First-Calf Heifer Dilemma

Cows hide calves sometimes, so how can producers make it easier to keep tabs? (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo by Becky Mills)


We have a group of cows hiding their calves more than normal. After one heifer gave birth, we could not find her calf for two days. When we did find it, it was very weak. It had gotten under the fence. We managed to nurse it back to health but wondered if you have any thoughts on what is causing this behavior in our herd.


Readers may have some suggestions, and I encourage them to write to me, but here are some of my thoughts.

Most cows act differently when a calf is lost. You will see them walking the pastures and vocalizing. But some, especially first-calf heifers, can march to the beat of a different drummer. It's a good idea to check the heifer's bag to see if it looks like the calf has nursed. A strutted bag is a good sign of a problem with a calf.

During calving season, I recommend checking cows at least twice a day. Try to have them in pastures with few hiding places. When you can tag calves at birth, it can be very helpful to match cows to calves. Many times, I have found twins when a cow that calved is nursing an untagged calf. So, be aware of that possibility.

This is also a great time to emphasize the importance of a controlled calving season. It's hard for most cattle producers to check cows twice a day every day all year long. In addition to saving you labor, a controlled season can also help avoid having cows calve in the heat of the summer in the South or extreme cold in the North. Both increase the health risk for newborn calves.


Editor's Note: Please contact your veterinarian with questions pertaining to the health of your herd or other animals. Every operation is unique, and the information in this column does not pertain to all situations. This is not intended as medical advice but is purely for informational purposes.

Write Dr. Ken McMillan at Ask the Vet, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite 415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email