To mitigate risk in group calving pens and to lessen the space demand of individual pens, as well as to improve calving performance, some farms are moving cattle into calving pens later in the calving process and keeping them in the pen for a shorter length of time.
Length of time in calving pen
One farm used to move cows from a freestall close-up group to individual calving pens when they noticed the birthing process was started. However, they experienced too many cows that would stop progress on birthing after the move and as a result would require intervention and frequently, pulling calves.
Maybe this was because of the activity level around those pens since the herdsman’s office was located there, but whatever the reason for the interruption of calving, something needed to change. They changed the point in time when they move dams into the maternity pen, waiting until the cow is much further along in the calving process. Now when they move them, cows are seemingly past the point of no return in calving and usually calve within an hour and without assistance.
A system like that depends on frequent observation (every 20 minutes around the clock) of the close-up dry cow pen and knowledgeable and committed employees to move animals at the optimal time.
This type of system also deemphasizes feed availability in the calving pen because it is used for such short periods. That can be an advantage in logistics. Cows on this farm are in the calving pen generally for only 1 to 2 hours.
Another producer loads pens with animals two-three weeks prior to expected calving and then does not bring any new animals into that pen thereafter. This controls both socialization and pen density. Cows will leave the pen when they calve.
There is no one best answer for a calving pen system. It depends on space and labor constraints on each farm. However, each system requires a high level of management of this critical time for both dams and calves. Keeping the keys in mind, training employees to provide consistent and prompt care, and evaluating the results for both cows and calves will help you to achieve a high level of performance.
Source: Michigan State University