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Cattle Gestation: Ultimate Guide for Graziers [2024]

cattle gestation cow gestation
Written by
Sheeda Cheng
February 16, 2024
February 16, 2024

The cattle gestation period can last for nine months, or approximately 280 days. As a grazier, it can be complex to ensure the timing of herd pregnancies are optimal for profitability and production. Providing the best conditions during a cow’s gestation period is important to a healthy cow pregnancy and breeding cycle.

This guide will prepare you with the most important stages and factors to remember for your cow gestation period. In addition, we’ll provide you with a few tools to move forward confidently for the rest of the grazing period to answer the following questions: 

  • How long will my cows be pregnant?
  • What are the cattle gestation stages?
  • What factors can change the cow gestation period?
  • What could I do differently during these stages? 

Cattle Gestation Stages

Knowing the cattle gestation period is helpful to ensure a more predictable production cycle and to keep the pregnant cows healthy and well taken care of during vital stages of pregnancy. 

Cattle gestation can be segmented into three stages: 

  1. First trimester (0-3 months)
  2. Second trimester (3-6 months)
  3. Third trimester (6-9 months)

Use a cattle gestation calculator if you’re unsure which stage your cow's gestation is or when to expect the calf. In general, the gestation length is calculated by combining the joining date and date of birth records for calves. 

It’s important to note that if the date of joining is unavailable, it’ll be difficult to calculate the accurate days until calving or stage of pregnancy. Read more about cattle gestation lengths.

On the other hand, if you do have the date of joining, it’s a simple calculation:

Calving start = day when exposed to bull + 283 days 

Consider a 5-10 day variation. 

Cattle Gestation Length Variations

How does cattle gestation length vary? According to the Journal of Dairy Science, Cattle gestation days are often referenced as a total of “283 days,” but there is a 5-10 day variation to consider for breed, age, and the calf’s sex. One of the most prominent variations is breed.

Cattle Gestation by Breed

For example, angus cattle gestation (273 days) is significantly shorter than brahman cattle gestation (292 days). Below are some length variations for cattle gestation in Australia, according to the University of New South Wales.

Dairy cattle gestation 

  • Holstein Friesians: 279 days
  • Jersey: 279 days
  • Brown Swiss: 290 days

Beef cattle gestation 

  • Angus: 281 days
  • Brahman: 292 days
  • Charolais, Simmental: 289 days 

To easily determine the average expected calving date, use a cattle gestation chart such as this.

A cow gestation chart is a simple table based on a 283-day cow gestation period. Using this typical length of gestation, a cattle gestation table will help you quickly find the expected calving date on the calendar based on the date of joining. 

Cow Gestation Cycle

First Trimester: The Beginning of Cow Gestation

During the early stages of gestation in cattle, which typically lasts around 3 months, crucial developments occur. Following successful mating of heifers and cows (joining), the fertilised egg travels and implants itself into the cow's uterus. 

This marks the initiation of pregnancy, a time when the cow's body undergoes subtle but vital changes to support the growing embryo.

In these initial months, the cow might not display visible signs of pregnancy. However, the early gestation phase demands careful attention to the cow's nutrition and health. Adequate nutrition and proper care during this period are critical for the embryo's healthy development. 

Additionally, routine veterinary checks to confirm pregnancy and ensure the cow's well-being are crucial during these initial months.

Second Trimester: Growth and Maturation

The mid-gestation phase spans the subsequent 3-6 months, during which the embryo undergoes significant growth and maturation. At this stage, the calf rapidly develops its major organs and body systems.

While the cow's physical changes might not be overtly noticeable, her nutritional needs increase to support the calf's rapid growth.

During mid-gestation, the cow's diet should be well-balanced and rich in essential nutrients to meet both her needs and the developing calf's requirements. Adequate access to fresh water, quality forage, and appropriate supplementation, if necessary, becomes crucial to ensure optimal development.

Third Trimester: Preparing for Birth

In the final three months of cattle gestation, the cow enters the late stages of pregnancy, where the growing calf occupies more space and demands additional resources. This period is characterised by visible changes in the cow's physical appearance. 

There will be a noticeable increase in her body size as the calf nears full term.

During late gestation, the cow's nutritional requirements peak. Ensuring a balanced diet rich in protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals becomes imperative to support the calf's final growth spurt and prepare the cow for parturition (birth). For optimal cow/calf survival and postpartum production, a rising plane of nutrition is recommended.

Adequate shelter and a comfortable environment are also essential during this critical period to minimise stress on the pregnant cow and promote a smooth calving process.

Calving: Welcoming the New Arrival

Calving marks the culmination of the gestation cycle. It's an intense and crucial time when the cow gives birth to the calf. Providing a clean, quiet, and safe environment for the cow to calve is essential. 

Additionally, attentive monitoring during the calving process ensures both the cow and the newborn calf's safety and well-being.

After calving, both the cow and the calf require close observation and care. The cow's postpartum recovery and the calf's early bonding and access to colostrum (first milk) are crucial for their health and future development.

Cattle Life Cycle in Australia

Australia has two distinct life cycles for cattle, depending upon where your farm is located in the country. You might be curious to learn about the Northern cattle life cycle and Southern cattle life cycle.

What to Prepare 

Now that you understand the cow gestation cycle, this will help you plan the best nutrition and care for the cow and the unborn calf. Here are two key elements for the early stages and the mid-to-late stages: 

  1. Paying attention to health during the early stages. The earliest stage is the most critical, as this is when most miscarriages will happen. During this stage, pay close attention to nutrition, stress, and disease prevention. Read more about reducing early stage stress for your cow here
  2. Increasing nutrition during mid to late stages. As the foetus grows in the mid to late stages, rapid foetal growth will require increased nutrition, especially during winter. A diet rich in protein, energy, minerals, and vitamins is essential to support healthy growth and prepare the cow for lactation. 

Following the complete gestation cycle, plan a proper rest period after breeding for the cow. Typically 2-3 months of rest is vital for the uterine to recover and for the cycle to normalise for the cow. 

Try MaiaGrazing

As a grazier, the best way to optimise your profit and keep your cattle happy is to plan and easily manage your grazing with softwares and tools. There are numerous resources and experts always ready to help! 

Have a friendly expert in your back pocket for those moments when you need strategic insight for your cattle with grazing management software such as MaiaGrazing.

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