“Calving difficulty (dystocia) is a very important economic problem in the U.S. beef cattle industry,” said Dr. Jeremy Powell, associate professor for the University of Arkansas’ Department of Animal Science. “Several factors can play a role in causing calving difficulty including heavy birth weights, abnormal fetal position, limited pelvic area and the female’s age (first-calf heifers have increased risk of difficulty). However, it would be difficult to identify if challenges may occur before labor actually begins.”
According to Dr. Scott E. Poock, DABVP, beef and dairy cattle specialist and clinical assistant professor at the University of Missouri, the most common challenge with birthing is that first-time mothers are inexperienced and will take longer to deliver the baby. “We will see more babies from first-timers become stillbirths compared to older animals,” he said.
Poock recommended that any time a producer does not know what the problem is or does not know how to handle a difficulty, they should call a veterinarian. Also, if a first-timer has been in labor for more than 2 hours, the producer should call a veterinarian. “When I was in practice, I told my clients that I would much rather come out and have a chance for a live birth than have the producer wait too long,” he added.
Poock suggested the following list of essentials for producers to have on hand in case they need to assist with delivery before a veterinarian can arrive: buckets (2-3 gallons), disinfectant, hot water, lube (lots of lube), calving chains, rope, halter, sleeves and calf pullers (for last resort use). “Once a call has been made for the veterinarian, both the producer and mother should take a break rather than trying to continue to pull,” he added.
When the new animal is born, Poock recommended that the producers allow the mother to lick off the baby. You’ll also need to make sure the baby is breathing, if the baby is not breathing use a piece of straw or hay and stimulate its nostril. “Do not pick the baby up by its back hooves and swing it,” he added. “This has been done for years but does not help the breathing of the baby.”
Ideally, the baby will be up and nursing within 30 minutes. “However, if a producer does not feel the baby has nursed the mother by four hours after birth, I would recommend that they milk the mother and feed the calf or provide some type of colostrum replacement (commercially available or stored colostrum from another mother),” Poock said.
Other recommendations from Poock about assisting first-timers with birthing include:
• Separate first-timers from the mature animals so they can be observed more often.
• Breed first-timers to give birth prior to the mature animals. This allows more time to watch them, and more time prior to breeding them the second year.
• If possible, keep them separate from mature animals through their first year of raising their offspring. These animals are psychologically (possibly even physically) intimidated by the mature animals.
• Selection of the sires used to breed first-timers is very important. Selecting well proven easy “calving” sires has been very beneficial in the beef industry. There is less about sheep and goats, but if a producer knows a certain sire has large offspring they should not use them on first-timers.
Powell recommended that producers familiarize themselves with the stages of labor.


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