Spring calving season is just around the corner. This also means calving problems and the need to intervene and assist in the delivery of the calf. Here are several mistakes made before, during and after calving.
1. Generally pasture is the cleanest place for cows to calve. If you are using a shed or building for a calving area, do not use sawdust or newspaper for bedding. Calves can inhale sawdust, causing lung damage. It can also get into the cow’s reproductive tract, causing infection. Newspaper sticks like glue to a wet calf. Use straw bedding for the best environment.
2. Avoid moving cows multiple times when they are in labor. Research has shown that labor time can be increased as much as nine to 16 hours by moving during Stage 2 labor (the water bag is showing). Sometimes moving during Stage 2 labor is unavoidable; give the cow or heifer time to get accustomed to her new surroundings so that labor can resume.
3. Do not rupture the water bag. Rupturing the water bag does not speed up calving. Rupturing the sac can decrease uterine contractions due to decreased internal pressure. The fluid also cushions the calf’s head as it enters the birth canal.
4. Do not use soap and water as lubrication. The soap actually breaks down and removes the cow’s natural lubricants. Improper lubrication can lead to increased uterine and vaginal wall trauma during birth, and make pulling more difficult. Use commercially available lubricant when assisting with labor and delivery. When using calving chains, wrap the chain twice around the foot, with one loop above the fetlock joint and one below the same joint. This distributes pressure from the chain, and leads to less chance of causing a fracture during a delivery.
5. When pulling a calf, try to pull only when the cow pushes. Do not pull constantly. When the cow relaxes, maintain your position; this will also stimulate cervical and vaginal dilation. Pull at a downward angle; this most closely mimics a natural birthing position. Do not apply more pressure than what two people pulling can exert without professional assistance.
6. When pulling a calf in a normal head first position, stop pulling when the last rib is delivered. This allows several things to happen. First, blood from the placenta can be transferred to the calf before the umbilical cord breaks. Second, mucus can drain from the nasal passages and the throat, often allowing the calf to take a breath. You can now rotate the hips of the calf approximately 45 degrees to facilitate extraction of the remaining part of the calf.
7. DO NOT HANG A CALF UPSIDE DOWN OR SWING IT TO REMOVE FLUID! This does not remove fluids from the lungs; instead, it allows the abdominal organs to compress the lungs, making it difficult for the calf to breathe. It is better to place the calf in a sitting position on its chest, allowing both lungs to expand. A clean piece of straw to gently scratch the nasal passage can stimulate a cough to expel mucus. Respirators are available to expand the lungs; make sure you are trained by a veterinarian before using such a tool.
Patience is a virtue when delivering calves. Give the cow time to dilate. Use slow, steady pressure when delivering a calf.
Dr. Mike Bloss, DVM, owns and operates Countryside Animal Clinic with his wife, Kristen Bloss, DVM. The mixed animal practice is located in Aurora, Mo.