Calving Cows and When to Yell
• Anna Erickson, DAFWA, Narrogin
Before You Start
• Is this normal?
Do we need to intervene?
• Am I confident enough to do so?
• Do I have all the gear I need?
• What is my back up plan?
• Can we get a vet if necessary, and if not
Is this normal?
• Normal duration of different stages of labour:
• Stage 1: 2 to 6 hours, should not be more than 8
(12 in heifers)
• Stage 2: 2 hours or less
• Stage 3: 12 – 24 hours
• Vaginal discharge should be clear/white mucus
• Cow may lie down, but will generally still stand if
Do we need to intervene?
• If stage 1 lasts more than 8 to12 hours.
• If stage 2 lasts more than 2 hours
• Active straining lasts more than 30 minutes without
• Cow has started active straining and then stops for
more than 20 minutes
• The calf is showing signs of distress
• (swollen tongue, blue membranes,
• meconium staining)
Do we need to intervene 2
• The cow is down and unable to get up either
before or immediately after calving
• The foetal membranes are not passed after 72
Am I confident enough to
• Know the basics:
how to tell if the cervix is dilated
how to tell whether there are 2 feet and a nose (belonging
to the same calf..)
how to tell front legs from back legs
how to put on calving ropes
how to use a calving jack or your own strength
when to call it quits
NO ONE EXPECTS YOU TO BE A VET
Do I have all the gear I need?
• 5 litres of commercial obstetric lubricant
• Calving ropes or chains
• Soap, water, betadine
• Antibiotics (pessary, injection)
• Calving jack if available
What is my back up plan?
• If this is beyond me, who can I call?
• Can we get hold of a vet?
• Do we have the means to humanely
euthanase the cow if necessary?
• DO NOT START if you do not have a back
Why things go wrong
Stage 1 prolonged
Stage 2 prolonged
Foetal membranes retained
Milk fever, breech birth, primary uterine
Foetal oversize, malpresentation, milk
fever, cow too fat, pelvic damage/narrow
Milk fever, mastitis. Sometimes “it just
Very tough labour/large calf, milk fever
Milk fever, toxic mastitis, nerve damage,
Getting a hand in there…
• It is impossible to decide whether to assist
without a thorough vaginal exam
• Plenty of lube, keep things clean, avoid
• Cut your fingernails…
What you might find
• Closed cervix, nose/feet palpable through
the vaginal wall above the cervix
• A water bag at the cervix
• 2 feet and a nose
• 2 feet and a tail….
• Some other combination
• Front legs – fetlocks and knees bend the
• Hind legs – fetlocks and knees bend in
Calf upside down
BEFORE you pull..
• Do you have a rope on both legs and the
• Can the calf’s head and front legs be
brought into the birth canal without much
• Can you fit your hand between the top of
the calf’s head/top of the hips and the
Use of the calving jack
• NOT a tool to add additional strength, but
used to avoid operator fatigue
• Work WITH the cow and pull only when
she is straining
• If visible progress is not being made with
each working of the handle, reconsider the
route of delivery
Use of the calving Jack
When to call for help and the vet
• At ANY stage if you’re not comfortable!
• When there is a malpresentation that you
cannot correct within about 30 minutes
• When continuing manipulation is resulting
in distress to the cow or calf, OR TO YOU
• When you encounter one of the
Stuff you can’t fix…
• Absolute foetal oversize (ain’t gonna fit through the
• Full breech (tail only presented) in big cows and small
• Complex mispresented twins
• Dead emphysematous calf
• Dead mispresented calf
• Uterine torsion
• Foetal monster
Complications of third stage
• Uterine prolapse
• Milk fever
• Retained foetal
• Post partum paralysis
• Brute force is not the answer
• Everyone makes mistakes
• Ask for help sooner rather than later
• Examine early, even if you then decide to
• Euthanasia is a humane option
• Caesarians are only really viable when the
calf is still alive…
Immediately after calving
• Check for tears or damage
• Was the manipulation enough that the cow
• Oxytocin? Calcium?
• Calf – breathing, navel, first feed