Calving season can be a very stressful time period for you and your calves. If you haven’t been involved with a cow having a difficult labor, it can all seem overwhelming. See below a simple guide for calving.
Reducing the Number of DOA Calves
John H. Kirk, DVM, MPVM
Veterinary Medicine Extension (UC Davis),
Keep in mind that the calving process under normal conditions is a continually progressive event. There are three general stages to the calving event:
1. Relaxation and dilatation of the cervix;
2. Active pushing to expel the calf
3. Passing of the placenta or membranes and shrinking of the uterus. Each stage leads into the next stage.
Stage 1 - There is little outward sign of uterine activities as the cow may only show some restlessness, raise her tail occasionally or appear uncomfortable. All the time, the uterus is beginning to contract forcing the fluid filled membranes through the dilating cervix. This stage may last up to 24 hours.
Stage 2 -This stage begins when the placenta or membranes appear through the vulva and ends when the calf is born. At this point, the calf mortality clock begins to tick. The longer it ticks, i.e., the long calving takes, the high the calf mortality and the more "DOAs" that occur. Mature cows usually take 30 minutes to 1 hour to deliver the calf once the membranes appear. First calf heifers often take long averaging 1 to 4 hours. Once the calf appears, it should never go back in. As time goes along, more and more of the calf should be seen as the cows continues to push.
Stage 3- Delivery of the placenta or membranes.
Idea Two: Have a pad of paper and pencil available in the calving area to write down when the membranes first appear. Also note the time the membranes rupture. Tape the time pad to the calving stall with the cows number and times. Keep track of the time since the membranes first appeared. Remember that lack of progress with calving is a very strong signal that there is a problem. Examine older cows within an hour after the membranes have appeared if no calf has appeared or the calf appeared but no more of the calf has come out through the vulva. Give heifers 2 hours maximum before examining them for problems. The mortality clock is ticking all the time! Waiting too long is the biggest cause of calf mortality at calving.
Idea Three: Be very clean when examining the cows for problems. After restraining the cow, put on gloves and clean the vulva and hind parts of the cow thoroughly with lots of warm water and disinfectant soap. It is often helpful to tie the cow’s tail to herself to keep it out of the way. Don’t tie the cow’s tail to the pen or chutes as it may cause injury if the cow goes down or escapes. Once you and the cow are very clean, apply lubricant to your arms and the cow’s vulva and gently examine the placement of the calf within the uterine canal.
Idea Four: Determine the position of the calf and when possible return the calf to the normal calving position with the head resting on the forelegs or the rear legs both entering the birth canal. Keep in mind that it may be necessary to push the calf back in to gain room to manipulate the legs or head. Also be aware of the possibility of multiple calves particularly if there seems to be too many legs in the birth canal. Remember that front legs have three joints up to the elbow while rear legs only have two joints up to the hock.
Idea Five: Before attempting to pull the calf, apply at least a gallon of lubricant into the birth canal. It is much better to err on the side of too much lubricant than to have too little. Once you begin to pull the calf, it will be very hard to add additional lubricant when the calf gets stuck.
Idea Six: Don’t be in a big rush to get the calf out. Let the cow help you deliver the calf. When the cow pushes, you should pull. When the cow rests, just hold what you have. Refrain from using any pulling device other than a calf jack or two people pulling. When the calf’s shoulders or hips have passed through the vulva, pull in an arc down towards the cow’s feet. This will often prevent a hiplock. Always check for a second calf particularly if the first calf seems small.
Idea Seven: If the uterus seems to be twisted when you examine the calf; the calf seems extremely large; or you are unable to easily pull the calf after getting it in the proper position, STOP! Just stop and call the veterinarian to provide you assistance. Attempts to muscle out the calf will only lead to the death of the calf and post-calving complications for the cow.
Remember that calving is a progressive procedure so keep time of the calving events. Be very clean when you examine the cow to determine if a problem exists. Let the cow help you deliver the calf and call for help before using excessive force to get the calf out.
John H. Kirk, DVM, MPVM
Always Remember the 3 Golden Rules of Obstetrics!
1. Lube, Lube, Lube (and more lube)
3. Safety (for you and the cow!)