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Tips for a Successful Calving Season

January 28, 2016

I would just like to share a few tips that I have gathered through some of our winter meetings. Perhaps the most important tip is to have a good relationship with your local veterinarian. Sometimes the difficult decisions during calving season are best made by your veterinarian.

Just a few of the basic things:

  • There are three stages of parturition (giving birth)
  • Stage 1- dilation of the cervix, occurs 4-24 hours before birth, most times this stage is not noticeable. Some signs may be the cow trying to isolate herself, discomfort, switching of the tail, and increased discharge.
  • Stage 2- start of contractions, membranes and fetus enter the pelvic canal, amniotic sac or “water bag” will appear at the vulva, a general rule is that delivery of the calf should be complete within 2 hours after the amniotic sac appears
  • Stage 3- placenta (afterbirth) is delivered. Usually passes within 8 hours after birth.
  • Colostrum should enter the calf within 4 hours of birth.
  • Great time to identify, (tag, tattoo, etc.) administer vaccinations, dip navel in iodine, collect weights, etc.

Some tips for dystocia (calving difficulty):

  • Be clean! Be gentle! Be patient!
  • Massage cow’s vagina to increase dilation
  • Double hook chains above and below fetlock joint
  • Alternate pulling on legs (helps shoulders come through a smaller pelvis)
  • Pull out AND down
  • If calf becomes hip-locked, rotate the calf 45 degrees and then pull
  • Use calf puller only if necessary. A calf puller will put extreme strain on the cow and the calf
  • Remember sometimes a c-section is the only option

Most dystocia is associated with large calves or small pelvic area of the calving female. Abnormal presentation can also be the cause. It is important to identify what the cause of dystocia is before pulling the calf. You may need to re-position the calf or perform a c-section instead of using the calf puller.

Once the calf is delivered, it is important to clear mucus from its mouth/airway and stimulate breathing. Sticking a piece of straw into the nostril can help to encourage sneezing and coughing clearing mucus from the airway. If the calf is not breathing bouncing it on it’s rear-end can help stimulate breathing.

Source: Travis Meteer, University of Illinois