NOW is the ideal opportunity to review pre-calving management with a view to getting the spring calves off to the best possible start.

With most of the calf growth occurring in the last six weeks of pregnancy, there is still some time to try to adjust cow condition prior to calving, but not much.

It is also worth checking for worms or fluke; thin cows can be an indication of a problem which can have a major impact on cow health and colostrum production at calving.

Any liver damage has serious ramifications for the cow and calf, with an increased risk of metabolic problems, weak, low viability calves, poor colostrum supply, poor milk production and difficulty getting back in calf being common observations.

Fluke levels are still high and are likely to persist in the cows through winter. It is worth getting cows checked now, perhaps using the latest immunology tests, to identity potential persistent infection.

lf cow condition and health are fine then the main focus is on boosting the cow pre-calving, ideally to achieve plenty of quality colostrum, an easy calving and an energetic calf which is quick to stand and suckle.

The first principle is to make sure the cow has enough energy. This doesn't mean feeding in excess and achieving large calves, but means providing the cow with sufficient blood glucose to ensure she has the energy for calving and to produce concentrated, high fat colostrum.

A 600kg cow needs around 100MJ energy at calving and has an intake around 10kg; ad-lib silage should provide sufficient energy, but must be of reasonable quality.

If forage quality is questionable, or if straw is being fed then a supplement is required. In general, this year's silages are plentiful, but often lower in energy.

Many producers have the opportunity to supplement this with draff which provides a great supplement, providing both energy and protein.

The boost in protein is particularly beneficial just before calving to help colostrum production, which has a particularly high demand for high quality dietary protein and is absolutely key for calf survival and development.

There are a few nutrition tricks which can help speed up calving and boost calf vitality. The first priority is to ensure an easy calving; a difficult calving is more likely to produce a lethargic calf as well as a cow slow to come onto milk and, subsequently, difficult to get into calf.

We have experimented with boosting calcium and magnesium just before calving and had excellent results, even when base levels look adequate.

The success seems to depend on being able to boost the cow in the days rather than weeks before calving, but does seem to speed up the parturition process.

We can also boost the calf through pre-calving nutrition. Providing fish oils, vitamin E, Sel-Plex and iodine in the last month before calving has given great benefits in getting calves up and going just after birth.

Fish oils are known to boost foetal brain development whilst the selenium and iodine are key to triggering the initial energy metabolism of the new-born calf. The combination helps to get the calf up and suckling quicker and, taking in the best quality colostrum.

A word of caution on iodine - an excess can seriously compromise the absorption of immunoglobulins from colostrum so it is worth getting your forages checked for iodine status before boosting supplementation.

It is also worth mentioning heifers. With intakes about 20% less than a cow, and an energy and protein demand for their own growth, heifers need a bit more consideration.

Long-standing Harbro customer, Claire Watson, has a strong view on the condition of the 300-head suckler herd she runs with her husband Andrew, at Glasslaw, Stonehaven.

"Coming into the calving, I like the condition of the cows to be above average, not fat and not thin. In this condition, I feel the cows have more energy and keep going whereas a thinner cow will run out of steam when she is calving and if she has a bad calving, takes longer to recover," she said.

The spring calvers at Glasslaw are currently being fed a ration of straw, silage, draff - with leaner cows getting potatoes as well - supplemented with Grampian Super Suckler SEC for two months before calving and three months after, moving them onto Super Suckler SEC buckets once they are outside.

Allowing too much condition to come off heifers (and cows) at calving seriously impinges on subsequent fertility. We need to view the time now as the start of next year's production and manage body condition accordingly.