Calving Season Approaching – Check your Cows!
Texas Cooperative Extension – AG News 12/05
'With today’s market and high input costs, death loss shouldn’t be tolerated. Throughout America thousands of cows and even more calves are lost each year at calving time. Even with best management practices in place, cow/calf producers should expect their cows to experience some difficult births. Increased herd monitoring, examining suspect cows, and taking proper, timely action are all critical in minimizing death loss at calving time. While calving difficulty is normally attributed to first calf heifers, all cows should be routinely checked during the upcoming calving season.
Cows should progress normally through the stages of labor. Uterine contractions position the calf to enter the birth canal (stage 1). The cervix dilates and the calf starts through. When the calf enters the birth canal, abdominal straining pushes him out (stage 2). Time is the most deadly enemy in all cases of calving difficulty. A calf has roughly 3 to 4 hours of oxygen supply after the cow’s water breaks. When time limits are approaching and no visible progress is being made, that’s when she needs your help. Improper positioning in stage 1 can lead to a breech calf, or one with his head turned back. In the case of a breech, the calf is turned backwards with his rump against the cervix and his hind legs pointing toward his ears. If no water bag is observed, there may be no other indication birth has begun. If you wait too long, the placenta will detach and the calf will die. Many times when the calf’s head is turned back, the feet will be exposed and all appears normal. Again, timing and careful monitoring are critical.
When you decide to intervene, care should be taken to protect the cow and calf from injury. If possible, put the cow in a processing chute and try to keep her up. This puts gravity on your side, while making it easier to get both arms into the birth canal and see what’s causing the problem. When repositioning calves, use lots of lubricant. When straightening legs or turning heads, keep your hand between the calf and the uterine wall to protect against tearing (hooves and noses can easily tear a large laceration in the uterus). A torn uterus is serious damage and must be surgically repaired.
If you have any longevity in the cow/calf business, you are bound to run into a problem that requires professional assistance. If you are unable to correct breeches and turned heads quickly and easily, it is best to call your veterinarian. With first-calf heifers, many times the calf’s head is simply too big to fit through the pelvic cavity. In this case, a caesarean should be performed. The most difficult decision to make is whether or not to intervene. As long as you stay clean and well lubricated, you should cause no damage by simply examining her. Most calves lost at birth are normal, healthy calves who’s mother just needed a little help. If you are there to give them the required assistance and act in a timely fashion, birth losses should be cut below 1%, which will hopefully translate into a healthier bottom line.'