Good facilities can help ease job of calving

A good calving facility — even if it is little more than a few panels and a simple head catch — can increase calf survival and health, rebreeding rates, and overall profits — not to mention easier and safer calving for both the cattle and the people assisting them.

“They can be as simple or as complex as people want to make them, but the two things they need are to be functional and accessible,” says Cory Parsons, Baker County, Ore., livestock Extension agent.

A dilapidated facility that cannot safely hold a cow won’t get used, no matter how close it is to the calving area. And a cow having a difficult birth is not likely to get hauled to a facility that is too far away.

Key Points

• Access and function are critical to a calving facility.

• Ranch manager Gaylen Swainston gets to design his dream calving setup.

• Facility is designed with safety in mind for both cattle and the handlers.


One step up from the basic facility is a set of jug pens where the pairs can mother up for 12 to 15 hours. Another step up is a dry location under shelter.

Gaylen Swainston manages a ranch east of Baker City, Ore., for Arizona-based Rufenacht Land & Cattle. Calving starts in February, which still looks a lot like winter this close to the Elkhorn Mountains.

Swainston has calved in the open and in lean-to sheds. In 2003, his first year at the Baker County ranch, he calved in a hay barn. When Rufenacht’s Phoenix office got a good deal on a prefabricated horse barn, Swainston jumped at the chance to improve his calving facilities.

A chance to start from scratch

Because he didn’t know what the new barn would look like, Swainston worked out the design as the building went up. Now he has a medicine room with a refrigerator for vaccines and a warming room with five small pens and a calf-warming box. Cattle can be moved easily from the calving pasture to outside pens and into the barn.

“This is a pretty good facility. It makes my life easier, and it’s a lot simpler than the old way. Easier on the livestock and better for the guys having to do it,” Swainston says.

Gates can swing across the alleyways to crowd the cows or to form extra pens. One set of gates creates a narrow alley directly from the outside corrals to the head catch. The head catch area is well lighted, with calf pullers and ropes hanging on a nearby wall.

Safety was a big concern. “You can always be behind a gate. There are a lot of places for the cowboy to get out of the way but still control the cow. If you stop and think about it, it looks like a lot of money up front, but on the back side, paying workers’ compensation adds up, too,” Swainston says.

All in all, it’s the best calving facility Swainston has ever seen.

“It’s nice to come into a warm deal — nice for the calves and the cows, and especially nice for me,” Swainston says.

Farren writes from Ukiah, Ore.

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CHUTE OPTIONS: Gaylen Swainston adjusts the head catch at his calving facility at the Rufenacht Land & Cattle ranch near Baker City, Ore. The chute can be opened from the side to give access for medical procedures or a nursing calf.

This article published in the September, 2010 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.