Calving Problems

Calving Problems

Calving Cows and When to Yell

for Help

• 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

then what?

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

visible progress

• 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


Do I have all the gear I need?

• 5 litres of commercial obstetric lubricant

Calving ropes or chains

• Soap, water, betadine

• Antibiotics (pessary, injection)

• Oxytocin

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

up plan!

Why things go wrong


Stage 1 prolonged

Stage 2 prolonged

Foetal membranes retained

Uterine prolapse

Possible Cause

Milk fever, breech birth, primary uterine

inertia (rare)

Foetal oversize, malpresentation, milk

fever, cow too fat, pelvic damage/narrow


Milk fever, mastitis. Sometimes “it just


Very tough labour/large calf, milk fever

Cow down

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

same way

• Hind legs – fetlocks and knees bend in

different directions

1 2

3 4

Hindlimb flexion

Calf upside down

Elbow Lock

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

cow’s pelvis?

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

1 2

3 4

Complications of third stage

• Uterine prolapse

• Milk fever

• Retained foetal


• Post partum paralysis

Always remember…

• Brute force is not the answer

• Everyone makes mistakes

• Ask for help sooner rather than later

• Examine early, even if you then decide to

walk away

• 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

requires antibiotics?

• Oxytocin? Calcium?

• Fluids….

• Calf – breathing, navel, first feed

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