Methods help cows during tough calving

Ninety-five percent of all calves are born in the normal, feet-first, “diving-into-the-swimming-hole” position. These cows and calves generally do fine on their own.

Methods help cows during tough calving

Ninety-five percent of all calves are born in the normal, feet-first, “diving-into-the-swimming-hole” position. These cows and calves generally do fine on their own.

The remaining 5% need help from a veterinarian or experienced herdsman. Oregon State University Extension veterinarian Charles Estill has advice on how to recognize and assist cows during difficult births.

The first step is to be familiar with normal calving. Because the great majority of calving difficulties occur in first-calf heifers, they are likely to need extra care and attention.

The main cause of dystocia, or problem calving, is a calf too large for the cow’s birth canal. The other main condition requiring assistance is an abnormal birth position.

Using a “phantom cow” — a metal frame and zippered plastic bag — Estill demonstrated assistance with both kinds of births during an OSU Extension calving school held in Baker City, Ore., in December.

“As a rule of thumb, a normal delivery should be completed within two hours after the first water bag appears. If you see no progress within half an hour, it’s good to get her into the chute to see if things are lined up right and the cervix is open. If there’s something abnormal, there is still time to do something about it,” Estill said.

Key Points

• Problem births may be due to a large calf or abnormal birth position.

• A normal delivery should be completed within two hours after water bag appears.

• All interventions should be done in a clean environment.

How to intervene

The two main interventions are repositioning the calf and pulling the calf with chains and handles.

All interventions should be done in a clean environment. Tie the cow’s tail out of the way, wash the cow’s vulva and anus with soap and warm water, wash your own hands and arms, and put on new disposable plastic obstetric sleeves. Apply large amounts of commercial obstetric lubricant and insert your hand slowly in the vagina, cupping the fingers to avoid injury to the birth canal.

“Use lots of lubricant. Don’t be afraid to use a couple of gallons,” Estill says. Lubricant can be run into the cow’s birth canal with a garden hose and funnel. Not only does lubricant reduce friction, but it also expands the uterus and gives more room to reposition the calf if necessary. In a pinch, mineral oil, Crisco or Vaseline will work as lubricant.

“Don’t be hasty or heroic,” Estill says. Provided the calf is aligned in the proper position for birth and the cervix is dilated, be patient and give the normal birth process time to occur.

Abnormal presentations and how to reposition the calf are described in OSU’s “Calving School Handbook,” available online at beefcattle.ans.oregonstate.edu/html/publications.

“If you take your time and be persistent, you can work it out. Just don’t get overwhelmed by how much you have to do. Break it down and do it one step at a time,” Estill says.

Farren writes from Ukiah, Ore.

Calving stages

Calving can be divided into three stages that last up to 20 hours.

The preparatory stage. During the first two to six hours, uterine contractions begin and the calf rotates into the birth position. Cows show signs of discomfort and sometimes move away from the herd. The preparatory stage ends with the expulsion of the water bag.

Fetal expulsion. The next two to three hours are marked by strong contractions, during which the cow may lie down. The calf’s front feet appear, followed by the rest of the calf. Within 10 minutes of birth, the cow is usually standing up and licking the calf. The calf should stand within 20 to 30 minutes, and start nursing within the first hour.

Placenta expulsion. The placenta is expelled during the final six to 12 hours of the calving process.

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LEARNING TO HELP: Lynna Richardson, Halfway, Ore., practices on a “phantom cow” to learn how to pull a calf with chains and handles, while OSU beef cattle specialist Reinaldo Cooke and OSU Extension veterinarian Charles Estill look on.

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

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.

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