Hopefully this article finds everyone in the light and better after the clean up from the ice storm. I have seen a lot of people helping each other out and banding together. With winter in full swing and spring on the way, calving season is almost upon us.
While watching that cow or heifer for calving, I have always found the best predictor is the ligaments from the tail head to the pin bones. Within 24-48 hours prior to birth these become flaccid and loosen up. This will also happen in sheep and goats, too. While in veterinary school, I was given an award for predicting the most accurately of my class the birthing in food animals. All I was watching was these ligaments and the mammary glands. But, it was easy showing up the city kids that were going to do small animal care.
One of the most popular questions I get asked is 'how do I know when to get assistance for the cow or heifer calving?'  My rule of thumb is once you see water break, if it is a heifer I will give her four hours, and a cow I will give three hours, before trying to help her. Now, if you see any part of the calf sticking out then we forget the 3 and 4-hour rule and just give her 30-45 minutes to produce the calf on the ground. Normally, we will still have time to get her up and assist the delivery and still get a live calf on the ground. But, this is just a rule of thumb and this process is very variable.  I have always liked the old saying that cows do not read the text books.
If the case arises that you do need to offer assistance, please, remember you are reaching into this animal’s body. It can become infected in a heartbeat.  Use a bucket of warm water and soap to scrub her rear end up. I was always taught that it needed to be kissing clean before entry. I still do my best to adhere to that today. I have had a dairyman ask me why every cow he assisted got a uterine infection and wouldn’t breed back. Well, the answer was not cleaning her up prior to entry for assistance in delivery. Once he started cleaning them up, most of the uterine infections went away or did not occur. Clean heals, dirt infects.
For lube on deliveries I like just using my betadine surgical scrub on my sleeves. For lube on the farm you can just us a liquid soap like Dial antibacterial or any other liquid soap. This will help you be a little cleaner during the process. And if you do not have her 100 percent kissing clean and a piece of bacteria drags in with your arm, at least the soap is there to help you out. This is not 100 percent, but in my almost 22 years experience it sure decreases the likelihood of post-calving infections.
Now once we are reaching in, normal presentation is front feet and the nose are in the birth canal. There are also two bags of water, first being the allantois which has a lot of very liquid water in it. The second is the amnion, which is smaller and has a very thick snotty like fluid in it. The amnion is directly around the calf and may need to be opened, or will open upon delivery.
When I am reaching in to attach chains or straps I always put one loop above the fetlock or the ankle joint and then throw a half hitch in just above the hoof. This gives me two points of attachment and two points of pressure on the calf's leg while pulling. If you put the chain on just above the hoof it will either slip off or if the calf is dead the hoof will come off. If you put the chain on just above the fetlock or ankle, you will break the calf’s leg, (and this will happen at least 95 percent of the time). In the 40 years I have been working with cattle and livestock, the time it takes to put the double loop of chain or strap on the baby’s legs has not made any difference in getting a live or dead baby on the ground. At least then I have not caused any more harm.
Obviously, this could be a chapter in a book and article space is limited. I’ll have to continue this later. For more information, please, call your veterinarian.
Dr. Tim O'Neill owns Country Veterinary Clinic in Farmington, Ark.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here