A heifer begins cycling between nine and 22 months, and you should wait to breed her until she weighs at least 65% of her mature body weight. Most cattle achieve this size around 15-18 months of age. Some breeds mature more slowly than others, so assess each heifer as an individual. How does 65% of body weight look? Your heifer should look like a small, grown-up cow. If you have questions, consult a vet. In addition, a vet or repro specialist can also do a pelvic measurement and give a more concrete answer as to if your heifer is mature enough to breed.
Cows cycle into heat approximately every 21 days (give or take a few.) Signs of heat include vocalizing, riding other cows, discharge, being trailed by your bull, and standing to be mounted. You can track heat cycles on your phone, an app, or a calendar. When your heifer misses one, you know to preg check. (more on that later) Then, enter the date of the last heat cycle into a cattle gestation table, and you have the due date. (The link goes to one I like from "Cattle Today.") There are a few apps that help track and keep records. You could also keep a calendar or notepad. Just remember, good record keeping is essential!!
Do you think your cow is bred? I highly recommend testing to be sure. Drawing blood is probably the simplest way to test. You can draw blood 30 days post-breeding on an open cow. If your cow has a calf, you also have to wait 90 days post-calving for accurate blood work. Palpation is another option. However, I have not persoanlly had good luck with this route. You can do blood testing yourself. Check out Biopryn for an easy test option and supplies.
OK... THE DAY is here. What's in your emergency calving kit??? I can tell you what I have in mine, and it changes as each minor emergency has happened. I have a "go bag." In it are pulling chains, handles, lube, palpation sleeves, towels, iodine, a GOOD flashlight (or headlamp is even better), extra batteries, and Karo syrup. I have powdered colostrum in my freezer, a bottle, and hay and feed ready for a peace offering. Everything loaded into a 5-gallon bucket. Most of the time, everything goes just as it should. The tail sticks straight out, water bag appears, followed by two feet and a nose. In a heifer, I expect to see progress every hour and call for help if that's not happening. In a cow, I expect to see everything move along within an hour. If you see anything abnormal, call someone. I believe it is a courtesy to inform your vet (or neighbor) that you have a cow about to calve and may need help. Have a plan of what to do, when to do it, and whom to call (along with phone numbers) If you think you need help, ask for it, time can be critical. Oh, and charge your phone!!!
Now, your cow is bred, she is due any day. How do you know when the day is THE DAY?? They all look a little different. The first thing I notice is that the cow is definitely bagged up. Her teats start pointing out and there is a small amount of waxy discharge on the tips. If she lets you squeeze them, milk comes out easily. When viewed from behind, the cow starts to "spring." (Ask me for pictures, they can be kinda gross. If you need to know, I'm happy to share them. I did take the pictures after all.) Then one day, she looks skinny. You know you've been feeding this girl, so it makes no sense. Except... the baby is getting into position. Her belly drops from out to down as the calf starts pointing its nose toward the exit. The ligaments in the pelvis loosen and her hip bones appear more prominent. She's physically getting ready for that baby. Finally, just before she's due, the day or hours, she starts carrying her tail. The tail is up away from her body. She may be restless or not, eating or not, and trying to find a quiet place or not. If it's a first calf heifer, good luck with that and all the steps preparing for delivery. They don't follow any of the rules.
Now... Calf in on the ground, what do you do? Make sure the sack is not covering the nose. Break it if it is, tickle the nose with hay or long grass to help clear the airway. Don't get killed by mom. The friendliest cow in the world may have a different opinion of you when she has a calf on the ground.
If everything is going well, Do Nothing! Let the calf and cow bond. You should see her licking and cleaning, in bad weather you can help dry if she'll let you. Try not to get fluid on you, it makes mom inspect you a little too close.
In the first four hours, you want to see that calf stand and nurse. The calf has 24 hours to absorb colostrum, if you miss that window you will have a sick calf unless you go above and beyond. (you can have antibodies delivered in a blood transfusion.) This is where having colostrum on hand can come in handy. Calves born in the heat of the summer definitely have a harder time getting active. Spraying the umbilical cord with iodine can help prevent a number of issues.
Then, you want to see the calf poop. The last thing I'm looking for is all 4 quarters nursed. This for the cow's health, not the calf's. It is fine if it takes a week, but not too much longer. The best advice, if you have a bad feeling, call someone, you're probably right. If you were overreacting, that's better than under-reacting. As with calving, there is a limited time when things need to happen, to prevent major problems.