Stage 1 Labor: • Visible signs of early labor may or may not be seen in mature cows. First calf heifers are more likely to show signs such as wanting isolation, discomfort, uneasiness, kicking, and wringing the tail. There may also be some vaginal discharge and obvious uterine contractions. • This stage lasts 2-6 hours and may be longer in heifers. • Stage 1 ends with the fetal parts entering the birth canal.
Stage 2 Labor: • Visible signs of second stage labor include appearance of the water sac and evidence of a foot or leg. • This stage lasts from ½ to 4 hours. • Stage 2 ends with the birth of the calf.
Stage 3 Labor: • This stage is where the placenta or fetal membranes are passed.
When to Give Assistance: • If an animal is in stage 1 of labor for longer than 8 hours. • If in stage 2, any of the following occurs: • The cow has been straining for 30 minutes with no progress. • The water sac is observed for longer than 1 hour and the animal is not trying to push. • The animal is showing signs of severe distress or fatigue, including bleeding from the rectum of the cow or a swollen tongue of the calf.
When to Give Assistance: • It can visually be determined that the calf is coming in an abnormal way (three or more of the calves body parts are seen: feet, the tail, etc.). • If in stage 3, the fetal membranes and placenta have not passed within 12 hours after delivery.
Intervention: • Once it has been determined that an animal is having difficulty, the following steps should be taken: • Clean the vulva, anus, and surrounding areas with soapy water, removing all dirt and manure.
Intervention: • Determine the presentation, position, and posture of the fetus. • Presentation - This refers to whether the calf is coming head first, backwards or sideways. • Position - This refers to whether the calf is right-side up or upside-down. • Posture - This refers to where the calf’s legs are in relation to its body
Intervention: • The normal presentation, position, and posture is a calf coming head first, right-side up, with the front legs and head coming through the birth canal.
Front & Hind Legs: • It should be determined if the front or hind legs are coming through the birth canal. • This is done by understanding that the joints on the front limbs flex in the same direction. The joints on the hind limb, however, flex opposite of each other. • In the case of twins, any combination of front and hind limbs may be present.
Determine If the Calf Is Alive: • One of the criteria for making a plan of action involves determining if the calf is alive or dead. • This is done by: • Pinching between the toes and having the calf pull away. • Placing a finger in the mouth and feeling the calf suckle. • Gently poking the eye - the calf usually moves its head. • Checking rectal tone by placing a finger in the rectum - the tissue around the finger should contract.
Removal of a Dead Calf: • A dead calf may be more easily removed by having a veterinarian perform a fetotomy. This method may also be safer for the cow. • A dead calf, if not removed within hours, will severely compromise the health of the mother. • Severely swollen, fluid filled calves usually require professional help to remove. • A weak, yet live calf, needs fast removal. This may mean a Cesarean section.
When to Get Help: • Immediately seek professional help if any of the following arise: • No progress is made with 30 minutes of skilled effort to correct the problem. • After a few attempts, the exact presentation, position, and posture cannot be determined. • The calf is dead, swollen and/or dry, with the uterus contracted around the body of the calf.
Routine Deliveries: • Clean the vulva and surrounding area and use a lubricant (mineral oil). • Use sleeves and equipment soaked in soapy water or some other disinfectant. • Chains or straps should be placed on both front legs with one loop of the chain/strap above the first joint (fetlock) and a half hitch between the fetlock and the hoof.
Routine Deliveries: • If the cow is down, traction should first be placed on the calf’s lower limb (if the cow is standing, place traction on either limb). • The shoulder of this limb should be pulled through the birth canal. • Oftentimes it is possible to feel the shoulder come through the birth canal or note that the first joint (fetlock) is about one hand width outside of the vulva. • Traction should then be placed on the opposite leg and the shoulder pulled through the birth canal. If the second shoulder cannot be pulled into the birth canal, a cesarean section may be necessary.
Routine Deliveries: • Once both shoulders are through the canal, pressure can be placed on both limbs and the calf pulled until the chest is outside of the cow’s pelvis. Frequently, this is where the umbilical cord is compressed and the calf struggles to breathe. The cow often takes a break at this point. • If the calf is fairly large, it should be rotated 45-90 degrees, allowing the widest part of the calf (the hips from side-to-side) to pass more readily through the widest part of the mother’s pelvis.
Routine Deliveries: Widest Portion
Routine Deliveries: • Rotation of the calf is accomplished by crossing the legs and applying pressure to the upper limb and body while rotating. • When pulling the front legs and head, the pressure should come from directly behind the cow in a slightly downward direction. If the calf has been rotated to pass through the pelvis, the pressure should be applied in a slightly upward direction toward the tail of the mother.
Delivery of a Calf That Is Coming Backward: • Because the head of the calf is immersed in fluids during the delivery, the calf must be delivered quickly to avoid suffocation. • The calf should be rotated 45-90 degrees before attempting to remove it. • Traction should be applied from directly behind the cow in a slightly upward direction (towards the tail of the mother) until the calf’s hips are removed. • At this point, the calf can be rotated back to normal and removed routinely.
Abnormal Presentations, Positions, and Postures: • Extreme traction from more than two people pulling on each leg or improper use of a calf puller may cause severe damage and even death to calf and mother. • All traction placed on the calf should coincide with the mother having a contraction and pushing. • If manipulations need to be performed, it is very beneficial to have a spinal block (epidural) administered. Consult a veterinarian for specifics.
Normal Presentation and Position, Except One or Both Front Legs Are Retained:
Front Legs Are Retained: • With one hand, try to cup the end of the hoof on the leg(s) that is retained. This will protect the uterus and allow the limb to be pulled towards the pelvis. Sometimes a chain can be placed on the retained limb for extra control. • If more space is required, one hand can be placed on the chest or head of the calf. Then while pushing the calf back into the pelvis, the other hand can be used to cup and pull the retained limb into the pelvis.
Two Front Legs Are Coming Through the Pelvis, but the Head Is Turned Back:
Head Is Turned Back: • The head can be turned to either side, straight behind or even down between the legs. • A calf in this position is often dead or very weak. • Once the position of the head is identified, the head should be grasped. Oftentimes, gently placing your fingers in the eye sockets or mouth will help give some control. The head can then be gently manipulated into the proper position. • For extra control, a head snare or a loop of sterilized rope can be attached to the calf’s mouth and around the pole of its head. • It may also be necessary to push the calf’s body back into the uterus with one hand while positioning the head with the other. This allows that little bit of extra room that is often necessary.
Upside Down: • Both front legs should be identified and pulled out of the vagina using the techniques found in the previous pages. • Once the legs are accessible, the calf is rotated to normal position by crossing the legs and placing pressure on the upper leg and shoulders, while rotating. • The head should also be held and rotated along with the body. • Once the calf is properly positioned, it can be removed routinely.
Breech: • First, pull the hock of one leg into a flexed position. • Then, take one hand and force that hock upwards and forward. • The other hand is used to cup the hoof of that leg and pull the foot towards the middle of the calf and backwards. • Often it is helpful to use an arm or a sterilized toilet plunger to push the rump of the calf back, while trying these manipulations. • The same technique is used to reposition the opposite leg. • Once both legs are exposed the calf can be delivered routinely.
Four Legs in the Birth Canal: • Make sure the legs are all from the same calf. • If all 4 limbs are from the same calf, deliver the hind legs first. Delivering the hind legs first will allow the head to follow naturally (The calf in the above picture should probably be delivered head first.). • Rotate the calf if necessary, using the information found on the previous pages.
Delivering Twins: • Identify the limbs associated with each calf. (Many times one comes backward and one head first). • Try and remove the calf coming backward first, unless one calf is definitely in front of the other. • It may be necessary to push one calf back, while removing the other.
Common Mistakes: • Allowing the cow to be in labor too long before giving assistance. • Check cows often. Intervene if no progress is being made. • Trying to deliver a calf that is in an abnormal position without first correcting the problem. Never apply traction to a calf with the head or leg back without first correcting the problem. • Applying too much force. No more force than the equivalent of two people manually pulling should ever be used.
Dystocia: • Calving difficulty (dystocia) can increase calf losses, cow mortality, and veterinary and labor costs, as well as delay return to estrus and decrease conception rates. • While occasional dystocia is almost unavoidable, cattlemen can minimize dystocia through proper management. • Control of both genetics and environment (nutrition) is necessary to minimize dystocia.
Dystocia: • Approximately 70% of the calves that are lost between birth and weaning are born dead or die within 24 hours of birth. Most of these losses are related to calving difficulty. • Research has shown that calves that experience difficulty being born are about four times as likely to be born dead or die within 24 hours of birth than those born without difficulty.
Factors That Reduce Calf Crop Percentage FactorPercent: • 1. Cows fail to become pregnant 17.4 • 2. Calves lost at birth 6.4 • 3. Calves lost birth to weaning 2.9 • 4. Calves lost during gestation 2.3 • Total losses 28.9 • Average Net calf crop percentage 71.1
Factors Influencing Dystocia: • Many factors influence the incidence of dystocia, including: -Age of dam-Calf birth weight-Dam's pelvic area-Sex of calf-Size of the dam-Gestation length-Breed and genotype of sire & dam-Condition of dam-Nutrition of the dam-Shape of the calf-Position or presentation in the uterus-Geographic conditions
Pelvic Area • Pelvic area has received considerable attention recently as a trait that is related to dystocia. • Research has shown that the incidence of calving difficulty is more than twice as high in heifers with below average pelvic areas, compared with above average. • Table 7 describes the relationship among pelvic area of heifers, birth weight and incidence of dystocia. • These estimates result from calculations based on data collected from calving 600 first-calf heifers.
Pelvic Measurements • The bottom line on pelvic area is this: females with very small pelvises that carry large calves will experience calving difficulty every time, no exceptions. • On the other hand, females with large pelvises that have small calves will have very low (but probably not zero) incidence of calving difficulty. • Since pelvic area is highly heritable (estimates average 55%), producers who would like to reduce the incidence of dystocia in their herds should select against small pelvises. • Producers who would like to reduce the incidence of calving difficulty in their herds should consider pelvic measurements.