According to Dr. Tim O’Neill, owner of Country Veterinary Service, Inc., Farmington, Ark., there is no crystal ball available to predict if there will or will not be challenges with birthing before the process begins. Palpating daily before birth can be done, he warns this doesn’t always provide a sure prediction either.
“On average, somewhere between 6 and 10 percent of the calves born each year in the United States die at or shortly after birth,” said Andy McCorkill, livestock specialist and county program director for the University of Missouri Extension Dallas County Southwest Region. “It is inevitable that if you have a cow/calf operation, at some point you will have a dystocia problem. With proper management, the incidence of dystocia can be greatly reduced.”
McCorkill reminded producers that the calving process can be broken into 3 stages.
1.    Preparatory:  the entire stage will typically last between 2 and 6 hours.
2.    Delivery:  should take one hour or less.
3.    Post-calving: the cow will expel the placenta and other membranes (afterbirth). The whole process will typically happen over a period of 2-8 hours.
According to O’Neill, it is necessary to contact a veterinarian when the cattleman does not feel comfortable with the situation. “Especially if the cow has reached a fourth hour and has not delivered the calf. Another sign to be aware of is if the soles of the calves’ feet are towards the sky, then this calf is backwards and they should call right away.”
For the situations when a producer needs to assist with calving before a veterinarian can arrive, there are items that should be available to help with this process. O’Neill suggested that producers have OB sleeves, soap, water, OB chains, OB handles and maybe a calf jack.
“Remember cleanliness prevents a lot of disease,” he added. “All vulvas should be washed before ever reaching in, this will prevent many uterine infections and hopefully allow this cow to breed back.”
Proper use of calf pulling chains is very important. “Remember to attach chains to the calf’s legs properly, with the loop above the fetlock and a half hitch at the pastern (Picture 1) and alter legs when applying traction, ‘walking’ the calf out. (Picture 2) Some factory-built calf pullers have a mechanism that provides the walking action with each pull of the lever,” McCorkill said.
McCorkill also recommended that producers have a bottle and esophageal tube as well as some colostrum and milk replacer for instances where you may have to bottle feed a calf.
When a calf is born there are a number of things a producer should check. “If the calf is born in dirty conditions we probably should iodine the naval cord,” O’Neill said. “The cow should get up and start cleaning the calf with her tongue. This stimulates breathing and warms the calf. The calf should be up and nursing within about 2 hours. We need this calf to drink 10 percent of its body weight in colostrum the first 18 to 24 hours of life. This colostrum will give the calf its first immunity against the world, and without it they generally get sick and die.”
According to O’Neill, producers should wait two to four hours for the cow to give their calf the first milk. If this hasn’t occurred a supplement needs to be given.
When it comes to shelter, during calving, special treatment is not required if there are no obvious challenges before or while birthing progresses. “Cows need to walk a mile twice a day to keep their muscle tone so they can push a calf out,” O’Neill said. He added that green grass and pasture are preferred for bedding, but if there is a calving stall, sand and shavings, they are preferred over grass.


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