Calving Barn Setup 3/3/2014


Our cow barn, or calving barn, is basically the neonatal intensive care unit on the ranch. Activities that happen in our barn are as follows:
-Pulling Calves
-Restraining Cows to help calves learn to nurse that are having trouble
-A place for cow/calf pairs in extremely cold weather
-A place for cows to calve in extremely cold weather
-A home for bottle calves

Here is an article on calving barn setups:

Oregon State University, Ready for Calving

Our calving barn has 8 stalls, storage for hay and straw, a calving chute, a hydrant, and a place for a cart to clean out stalls.

I’ll touch on a few points that make our barn run smoothly:

The Doors:
The cattle come into the door at the top of the diagram from the alley ways in the corrals. the gates can be fixed to either direct them into the chute, or down to one of the stalls. When we bring a cow in to the chute we open the door on the top left of the diagram. Having this open door gives the cow the idea that she’s not walking into a dead end and makes it easier getting her into the head catch.

The door on the bottom left is by the cart we use to muck out stalls. It is for easy ingress and egress of the cart when full of soiled bedding.

The door on the bottom is large and on nice days we open it to air out the barn. The gate that separates the hay and straw storage can swing across and link to the large door to keep horses out of the barn.

The Gates:
The gates to the chute are essential. The one on the top side of the chute is left open to create an alley way that leads to the chute and as the cow walks in is closed behind her to lead her straight into the chute. The one to the bottom of the chute would be closed for this. Most cows would rather back out of the chute rather than go through the head catch, the bottom gate can then open to allow them access to the stall.

The stall gates all open to the chute so the cow walks down the isle and the gate is closed behind her.

The Chute:
Our chute is pretty basic. It has a simple head catch operated by a lever. The important difference between a chute used for general cattle work and one used for calving is that the boards on the chute sides can be removed. Sometimes a cow will lay down in the chute and the board will be removed for her to have space and make it easier for her to get up. Having the removable sides also makes it easier to milk the cow, or help a calf learn to nurse. If in the rare occurrence of a cesarean, the veterinarian will need the boards removed to access the side of the cow to preform the operation.


Straw and Hay:
We keep hay for feeding cows that are in the stalls. We keep straw for bedding. A note on straw:
Straw is my favorite bedding to use because its easy to clean out. Last year we couldn’t find a source for straw bales and instead used wood shavings. It smelled like a mix of the state fair and a hamster cage. The little pieces of shavings were hard to clean out and when fresh born calves were put in the stalls the shavings would stick to them and get in their nostrils. I would not suggest wood shavings. I also would not suggest any type of hay as it does not have absorb as well as straw. Also, try to get straw your cows wouldn’t want to eat. One year we had a kind of straw that came from oats and the cows would eat half their bedding. The straw we have now is wheat straw and I haven’t seen any cows excited to try and eat it.

When I put the straw in the stall, I fluff it out from the cubed bale shape and put it all in a pile in the middle of the stall. When the cow goes in the stall she’ll turn around and move a lot, spreading the straw to the corners. If a person spreads it out, then she’ll push it all to the sides and there will be no bedding in the middle of the stall.

We have 8 stalls that are about 10×10 feet. The stalls should be big enough the cow can lay, stand, and move around her calf, yet small enough to keep them close. When we place a calf in the stall, we always put it in a corner. If the calf is in the middle the cow won’t have room to stand and lick it clean.


Our barn is well lit. The most important thing is to have a light outside the barn in the alley way leading in, and inside as well. Cows don’t like going through dark alleys (who know what kind of creepy people she’d meet) into a dark barn. Having lighting will move her better.

Our barn has a hydrant inside located in front of the calving chute. We use this to clean the calving chute after pulling a calf. It is also convenient for watering cows in the barn.

I clean the stalls after each cow. Today I cleaned all eight stalls as the barn was full from putting pairs in from the cold. After I cleaned the cow barn, I cleaned the stalls in the horse barn as well. I think I’ve scooped enough straw, poop, and afterbirth for one day. It is a nice workout though, I don’t mind it, I think I actually enjoy it.

I know I missed a day on my posting, so I’ll catch you up. The calf we had pulled that had a hard start to life died in the morning. We did all we could to help it survive but sometimes nature says that it isn’t meant to be and nature has her reasons. It died warm and with a full belly of milk. On the upside, the heifer is in good health.

A pleasant change in weather is sunshine and above freezing temperatures. Last night was my last all nighter for the time being of checking cows. We’re now back to a normal schedule. We took the tape off of the calves ears and none of them had frozen so apparently the old trick worked. It didn’t even pull out that much fur.

When we were putting a cow in the barn last night I noticed the calf that we were helping to nurse was nursing on its own. We turned them out with the rest. I think he just needed a little more time to recuperate from being born on such a cold night.

Here are a couple pictures I took this evening as the sun was setting:




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