Update: Alvin C. Warnick Reproductive Management School

Attending the Alvin C. Warnick Reproductive Management School was very educational and everyone seemed to enjoy the fellowship! We were able get hands on experience manually palpating cattle and were able to learn from industry leaders within the state of Florida.

During day 2, I was able to demonstrate how to properly pull a calf.  Jonael Bosques provided the group with the lecture presentation before the hands on practicum. Cattle ranchers do not look forward to pulling a calf.  Pulling a calf typically means more input costs and a possibility of calf and dam loss.  During labor, a cow or heifer can experience dystocia which can prolong labor and eventually present with a dead calf.  As a cattle rancher, it is crucial to know how to properly and safely pull a calf.  In lab practicum of Jonael’s lecture, we used deceased calves to allow the learners to practice using OB Chains and how to properly pull the calf through a heifer’s smaller pelvis.  While OB Chains can look painful, they can and will help save calves, heifers, and cows during prolonged labor.

Some key points that I hit on were:

  • The entire birthing process typically takes between 24-60 hours.  Do NOT assist with a birth UNTIL the cervix is fully dilated and the sac is busted.
  • If the cervix is fully dilated and the amniotic sac is broken and she’s been in dystocia for more than 1 hour, you may check her and begin assisting.
  • Unlike with humans and horses, do NOT break an amniotic sac, this will NOT speed up the delivery time and can cause infection and adhesions in the uterus.
  • Be as sterile as you can! Wash your hands before assisting a birth.
  • If the calf is breeched (butt first) or malpresented, you must keep in mind that the calf may die from suffocation.  The naval chord can rupture during the calving process if it gets pinched.
  • OB Chains should be placed on the top of the Fetlock and Pastern of a hoof in order to prevent stress on one part of the leg.  Distributing the force will prevent broken legs.
  • Work WITH the contractions, do NOT force a to calf to come out.  You want to use traction assistance, NOT force.
  • Always pull at a downward angle.  This is mimicking the natural birthing process and the force of gravity will also help.
  • Goal: TO WALK THE CALF OUT.  This means to pull one leg, pause, and then pull the other leg.  The largest part of the calf is the shoulders and you want to slowly work them through the dam’s pelvis.
  • After birth, watch for signs of infection in your dam and treat as needed.

If in doubt call your local veterinarian! It’s better to be over prepared than under!

To help prevent dystocia from occurring, here are some tips that can decrease the chances:

  • Measure a heifer’s pelvic area before breeding and before calving.  At calving, you want a ratio of 2:7 of the heifer’s weight: the calf’s potential birthing weight.
  • To potentially have a smaller birth weight, check your bull’s Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) to see genetically he makes a smaller weighed calf.  EPDs provide an estimated genetic value of an animal as a parent.  EPDs are typically calculated for birth, growth, maternal, and carcass traits.
  • A dam’s body Condition Score should be between a 4-6 for optimal calving ease and development (both dam and offspring).

Rule of thumb:  NEVER SELECT FOR ONE TRAIT! This can result in poor conformation of cattle and will leave you more problems than you had at the beginning.

For information please read Pre-Breeding and Development of Replacement Heifers.

Photo Credit: Jonael Bosques, Hardee County Extension, County Extension Director / Livestock Agent

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