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Sandhills Calving System - Not Just for Beef

Nancy Glazier, Small Farms & Livestock
Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops

June 27, 2013

The snow pack is still plenty deep in the pastures, but it's not too early to think about calving, or kidding or lambing. If you have livestock birthing on pastures, think about the Sandhills System. I have a new appreciation for this system after visiting the Sand Hills (both names are used) last fall on the beef tour with Mike Baker, Cornell University beef cattle extension specialist. That part of Nebraska is expansive with rolling hills. There are ample acres to implement this system with low stocking density due to lower yielding land. And the hills are certainly sandy; the tour bus actually got stuck.

The Sandhills calving system separates cow/calf pairs from the rest of the herd. Dr. David Smith, veterinarian, University of Nebraska at Lincoln has done has done research on this. He states the primary reason is to keep the newborns away from the disease-carrying older animals to reduce the risk of scours (diarrhea). This also reduces the pathogen load with fewer animals in the paddock. Scours causes the biggest death loss of calves; they are the most susceptible for the first 2-3 weeks, and then the risk tapers off.

Here are the principles: Pregnant cows are grouped together. After one to two weeks of calving, the pairs stay in the first paddock with the remaining cows moved to a new paddock. After the next week, any cows still pregnant move to another paddock with pairs remaining. This continues on until all calves are born. After the youngest calves are 4 weeks old, the pairs can be recombined into one group.

Our pasture land is not as vast, but the principles of the calving system can be utilized here. Birthing outside in the right location may be healthier than inside a barn. The system requires additional management; paddocks need to be sized to carry the pairs for the expected residency (time period). If pastures are not growing, that means hay needs to be fed. If they are growing that means estimating the forage available for the time period for the number of livestock. Birthing season may be like a lopsided bell curve with a few early births, followed by the majority of the herd, then stragglers. Ideally, fall would be the best time to start planning for this method and leave the pasture area taller at the end of the grazing season for groundcover and possibly feed. The same birthing practices are still needed for healthy newborns.

Prevention is best approach. Vaccinate routinely and maintain adequate nutrition. If you're not ready to attempt this with the whole herd, maybe try this with the heifers. They may have lower antibody levels and poor maternal skills.

If you have questions on this, let me know. I know a producer that utilizes this for his heifers, maybe you could visit his system!











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Corn Congress - Batavia Location

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January 6, 2021
8:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Batavia, NY

Please join the NWNY Dairy, Livestock and Field Crop Team for our annual Corn Congress.  DEC re-certification points and Certified Crop Adviser credits available, so bring your picture ID.  Lunch is included.  Hear from program-related professionals and visit with our sponsoring vendors.  
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January 7, 2021
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Waterloo, NY

Please join the NWNY Dairy, Livestock and Field CropsTeam for our annual Corn Congress. DEC re-certification points and Certified Crop Adviser credits available, so bring your picture ID. Lunch is included. Hear from program-related professionals and visit with our sponsoring vendors. 
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February 10, 2021
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Batavia, NY

Please join Cornell Cooperative Extension's NWNY Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Team for the annual Soybean & Small Grains Congress to be held at the Quality Inn & Suites, 8250 Park Road, Batavia, NY.
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Resources for Managing Overtime

Beginning January 1, 2020, farm employers in New York will be required to pay overtime to certain employees for all hours worked over 60 in a week. We've developed some tools to help farm employers consider management strategies to respond to this change. Tools include an excel calculator to estimate the cost of overtime and an extension bulletin to help you consider and evaluate changes on your farm.

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The latest issue of Dairy Market Watch is now available. Keep up to date on the market issues affecting our dairy industry, and put changing market forces into perspective.

Dairy Market Watch is an educational newsletter to keep producers informed of changing market factors affecting the dairy industry.  Dairy Market Watch is published at the end of every month, funded in part by Cornell Pro-Dairy, and is compiled by Katelyn Walley-Stoll, Business Management Specialist with CCE's SWNY Regional Team.