udder development in 1st calf heifers ?

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May 5, 2018
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west Tennessee
I'll be calving out a small group of heifers ages 24-30 months starting next month. It's my first after a sixteen year hiatus from cattle. Just asking what signs, etc you guys watch the most as the calf is making it's way. Thanks
In my experience, udder development up to calving varies a lot by breed and genetics. I have a couple cows that make up udder 3 weeks before calving, and some only seem to fill out a couple days prior to calving. But that's one thing I do browse the herd looking for. Other things are often the heifers will go from looking very fat, to not quite as wide at the belly, when viewed from behind. Often times their sides look much more flat, and sometimes the right side especially. Additionally, you may see swelling around the vulva, and the muscles immediately below the tailhead will kind of loosen up, they won't be pulled up tight. They kind of will get a sagging look/feel. In the more immediate term you might see the cow going off by itself rather than staying right with the herd, and holding it's tail outward like they sometimes do after a day of being bred with a bull.
Good luck with the calving, and since you're getting refreshed, keep the heifers close if possible where you can watch them more diligently. Sometimes the only way I know a calf was coming soon is I walk out and there's a calf sucking on a cow.
I notice 1st calf heifers start to develop their udder quite a while before calving. I have a group right now that were 8 weeks away from calving when the udder started to "show". I can see some looseness on the hind end already too (down to 6 weeks). I find with heifers it's basically just the early development, then the signs of impending calving are pretty much the same. Lots of the time the behavioral cues aren't there or are less obvious because she doesn't know what's going on herself. When they're actually calving expect a slower pace than you would for an experienced cow (ie- water bag to seeing feet might be a little longer). Here in Manitoba the weather may make it necessary to warm the calf up or take the pair into a barn. With heifers especially unless it's absolutely necessary I won't move the heifer and her calf until they've bonded. If I think it's just too cold I might move the heifer in before she calves but in that case - expect a rodeo and a 3-4 hour delay before she calves. She'll be just too excited and obsessed with getting out to lay down and push for quite a while.
^^^^^ Well said.
Heifers in particular can vary dramatically. I've got a few cows as well that look like they're weeks away from calving and drop a calf hrs later.
271 days from mating/insem is my signal! Udders vary too much to be a good indicator. Pelvic ligament softening is often a really good one to watch but even that varies widely. But there's usually a bit of soft dipping in front of the pin bones in the few hours before calving that wasn't there before, even though the tail head area will have appeared to raise in relation to the spine over several days.
All very good comments. I agree. I have Simmental, so have pretty good milk supply. I find the udders tend to get "bulging" and tight. Teats get shiney. But, the loose ligaments around the tail head are very key to readiness.
They are restless. Lay down, get up & move to different area, lay down. And, they don't usually eat very much at all for 24 hours prior to calving. So, if you put out fresh hay, and they all get up & eat, but one leaves a LOT sooner than the rest, I would watch her close.

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