When Calving is Normal and When to Provide Help

Summer is in full swing, and the Fall calving season is right around the corner. Calving season can be an exciting time for producers seeing their efforts paying off with new life on the ranch. It can also be stressful if you do not understand the calving process and know when to allow nature to take its course and when to help it out. Throughout this article we will discuss the calving process, but more importantly dystocia, or calving difficulty.
The calving process can be divided into three parts. The first part is when the cervix dilates and softens and when the pelvic ligaments relax. This often goes unnoticed by the producer. During this stage the cow may be restless, her tail may be raised, and you may see thick clear mucus hanging from the vagina.
The second stage is when true labor begins. This is when the fetus enters the birth canal. Some first signs producers will see is the first water sac, the chorioallanoic sac, rupture followed by the amniotic sac coming into view. Once the amniotic sac breaks you should be able to see two front feet and a nose. Once the cow has made it to this stage delivery should be completed within 2 hours. Mature cows with a normal calf presentation can deliver their calf within 30 minutes of the amniotic sac appearing and heifers within 60 minutes.
The third and final stage of calving is when the cow delivers the placenta. Fetal membranes, or placenta, is traditionally expelled by the cow within 8-12 hours following delivery. If the cow does not expel the placenta within this time antibiotics may be necessary to prevent infection.
As previously stated, the second stage of calving should be completed within 2 hours. If you notice that your animal has not made progress, you may need to examine her. There are several issues that may occur to prevent cattle from having their calves unassisted. Some issues may be the calf is presenting backwards, a limb is twisted to the back, the head is not in the correct position, the calf is too big or a combination of issues. If you can examine the cow, make sure you have adequate lubrication. During the examination, if you think something is not correct and you are unable to manipulate you will need to contact a vet.
There are many reasons and causes of dystocia. These may be related to the age of the cow, weight or size of the calf, nutritional status of the cow, position or presentation of the calf, and other unknown factors. The age of the cow is related to calving difficulty in multiple ways. When heifers are calving for the first time, they often have a smaller frame size and they are still growing and developing themselves. On average, heifers have about 3-4 times higher calving difficulty than mature cows. When cows reach maturity, they traditionally have very low dystocia.
The cow’s nutrition during pregnancy can affect calving. If cows are overfed protein in the last 3 months of gestion it can influence the calf size. In contrast, if cows are underfed it can lead to reduced skeletal development and smaller frame size and weaker cows. Ideal would be to have cows calve at a body condition score between 5 and 7. This will ensure that proper growth has occurred and will increase the conception rates along with reducing the time until the cow returns to estrus.
Bull selection also plays a role in calf size. It is important to match the bull to the cow. If a small-framed cow is mated to a large-framed bull, you are increasing the opportunity for a large-framed calf. Mature cows may be able to handle this mating, but not always. First calf heifers would be at a high risk for calving difficulty with this type of mating. It is recommended that you chose a low-birth-weight bull with a higher weaning weight.
Position and/or presentation of the calf can also cause difficulties in calving. The ideal position for a calf to be born is front feet and headfirst. There are many adaptions that can cause issue during the calving process. A hip lock is when the shoulder or other structure is hung up on the hipbone. Some other common position issues are a turned head, folded legs, breech, and rear legs first. These presentation and position issues are often corrected or diagnosed during the examination.
Producers should ensure that they are doing what they can to prevent calving difficulties. Calving difficulty can lead to calf loss, cow mortality, increased vet and labor costs, increased time until the cow returns to estrus, and lower conception rates.
In the ideal world all cattle calve on their own without any issues. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. To increase profit levels, it is important to do what we can to reduce these issues. During the calving season it is important to monitor first-calf heifers closely to watch for any issues that may occur.


Posted: June 3, 2022

Category: Agriculture, , Livestock
Tags: Christa Kirby, IFAS, Livestock, Manatee County, Manatee Extension, Ufl

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