Page name: TD - Calving [Logged in view] [RSS]
2006-07-16 01:49:26
Last author: Calliope
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TD – Calving


  I know most people don’t involve a calving cow in their novels, maybe from lack of opening or lack of knowledge I don’t know. Either way, I just recently read a book that had it all wrong and it got on my nerves so here is how a calf is born :)


[#Natural Birth]
[#Assistance Methods]


Natural Birth

  The natural, unassisted birth of a calf is generally quite fast and it looks fairly effortless as well. There is some slight confusion as too the position of the calf in the birth canal as well as what happens after the calf is born and hazards that can occur if the mom isn’t diligent enough. This section will touch on what a natural healthy birth should look like.

[#Signs of Calving]
[#After the Birth]

Signs of Calving

  It generally isn’t hard to tell if a cow is preparing to calve as long as you know what you’re looking for. An early sign obviously includes the fact that the animal gets larger although some cows are usually fat so you can’t tell. As the due date approaches cows bags or udders will begin to grow larger and tighten as they fill with milk. The rear quarter will also loosen up and we aptly call this Springing since it springs up and down as the cow walks.

  Signs that a cow is going into labour include a raised and kinked tail (this means it will have a bend in it near the base of the tail, not that the cow just raise it to go about her business), the tendency to separate herself from the herd, restlessness (Lying down, getting up, circling, looking for a place to lie down, etc.), the appearance of her water (a yellow sack filled with water. Sometimes it breaks in which case there will just be a mess behind the cow), the position she’s lying down in (lying flat out, sometimes raising her head) and of course, the appearance of feet themselves.

  Cows that are near calving yet show none of these signs other than the springing and the tightening of their bags can be found out in other ways. Many cows tend to eat a lot more than usual before calving as well as some try to steal another calf instead of having their own. Some cows even attempt to hide the fact that they’re calving from you but this sneakiness is often a give a way as well.


  When a calf enters the birth canal it is not headfirst like humans. Instead the two front feet will emerge first. Above these will be the head and neck stretched out followed by the body and at last the hind legs. To properly picture it, just visualize a calf (or any other animal) running and when it’s stretched as far as it can go in one step this is the position of a calf during birth. There is no difference in the positions of calves when twins or other multiple births occur although their may be a fight for who gets out first and this can cause complications.

After the Birth
  Once the calf is born the mother will immediately get up to clean her offspring. Here a problem may arise because cows tend to clean the rear end first given that this is where the smell that says it’s their calf is. If a cow is occupied cleaning from the rear forward a calf has the risk of still having the birth sack over its head / nose. If this happens the calf will suffocate in no time at all. Generally the sack does break over the calf’s nose during birth but there are exceptions.

  During and after this first bath the calf will begin to struggle to get up. Many calves are up within the first hour, sometimes 2, after birth and if not they run the risk of becoming too weak and needing help. A newborn should have its first drink of colostrum (a rich milk produced by the cow during the calf’s first few days) within 6 hours. If this doesn’t happen the calf runs the risk of not making it. Some calves need help to get onto the teat and this is a simple matter unless the mom is of a rotten temperament. If this is the case then it’s not hard to make a bottle or milk another cow so that the calf does get milk. After the first critical day calves are generally good to go from birth effects and now have to be on guard against illnesses.




  There are a variety of complications that can occur during the birth of a calf but I will just touch on the main ones that I have experienced and the major concerns involved with them all. I will also explain the best method of fixing the problem and the surest way to gain a healthy new addition to your herd. These methods will be expanded on in the next section.

[#Large Calf]
[#One or Both Legs Back]
[#Head Back]
[#Twisted Uterus]

Large Calf
  If a calf is too large for a cow this can cause problems for both the calf and the cow. While this is a more common problem for heifers (first calvers) a bull that is too large can also create the problem in seasoned cows. Generally a pull is sufficient enough to fix the problem but sometimes the calf is too large to fit through the pelvis in which case a caesarean is necessary.

  Hazards of this include injury to the cow. She could pinch a nerve in her back, crack her pelvic bone (both contributing to paralyses) or prolapse which can all lead to death or at least selling her since she will never be able to produce like she did before. Dangers for the calf involve too much stress and pressure on it which will lead to its death or some sort of disability.


  A breech birth is when the calf is born backwards. The feet will still emerge before the back of the calf with the exception that they will be the hind feet. A simple way to tell if the calf is breech is to think “Is it running towards me or away from me?” If it is running towards you it is a normal birth but if the calves feet make it look like it’s kicking it’s legs in the air while running away you’ve got a breech on your hands.

  While breech births generally aren’t hazardous to the cow they can be quite dangerous for the calf. Many cows tend to take a breather after the head and shoulders of their calf is out but if it comes rear first this breather can mean life and death. When a calf reaches the half way point into our world its umbilical cord breaks, if the rear is out instead of the nose then the calf can’t breathe and will either drown or suffocate while mom takes a slight break. Because of this whenever a farmer notices a breech birth they will bring the cow in so that they can pull it. This ensures that the calf is out immediately and able to breath.

One or Both Legs Back

  If a calf has one or both legs back in the birth canal it isn’t possible for the cow to have the calf on her own. A cow’s pelvis is not large enough to allow the calf to pass if it’s not stretched out in its streamlined positions. Simple signs to tell whether one or both legs are back are that there is only one foot out or if the nose is coming out first.

  Much like a breech birth, as soon as a farmer notices this complication they will bring the cow in to pull the calf. If a person waits too long to assist then the cow will just continue pushing and this force will lead to the calf’s death.

Head Back

  Much like when one or both legs are back, if the head is turned the calf will not fit in the birth canal. It can be very hard for a farmer to turn a calf’s head since the cow is constantly pushing and many times the calf itself is fighting you on top of the fact that everything is quite…slimy. To get over these obstacles there’s a wonderful little wire tool called a noose that you simple slip over the calf’s head and pull. This will bring the head up and it’s a simple matter to pull the calf now. However, if it is not noticed that the head is turned and the cow is left alone for too long she will continue pushing and the pressure will lead to the death of the calf.


  Just about everyone adores twins but they can be a farmer’s bane. More often than not the birth of twins will require the farmer to untangle the calves inside the uterus and straighten them so they come out one after another. It can also be confusing finding out which leg belongs to which calf and without this you can’t pull a calf. To pull a leg of one and the leg of the other will hurt both calves and accomplish nothing. Twins are also smaller than single calves and many tend to be less hardy. They are more susceptible to diseases as well as the cow is more often then not incapable of producing for two calves.

  There is also a fatal effect of twins that happens before they’re ready to be born. All calves turn but the problem with twins is, that when they move they run the risk of breaking the umbilical cord of each other. If this happens then one calf will die and the mother’s body will start to get rid of the dead fetus. Of course, the cow’s body isn’t ready to have a calf yet so she isn’t open enough for the calf to make it out. The only sure way to get the dead calf out would be to have a caesarean but it is very hard to diagnose this problem and generally farmers don’t know that the cow was experiencing a problem until it is too late. In this scenario both calves and the cow are lost.


  A prolapse isn’t really a complication with the calf although it does have a higher chance of happening if the calf is too large. When a cow prolapses it means that she pushed her uterus out as well as the calf. This must be fixed immediately before the cow becomes infected. A person must be very careful in this situation for it isn’t hard for the cow to bleed to death. The procedure is still simple enough in definition despite this hazard.

  All a person has to do is push the uterus back in. It is best to be very careful doing this though. Have a pail of warm, clean water with some iodine in it to disinfect. Liberally wash the uterus while placing it back inside. If the cow continues to push everything out and further thwart you simply have someone place a post through the pen over her back and press down, this will prevent the cow from pushing. Once everything is back inside sew up the cow so that she doesn’t push it all back out again. The stitches should be removed in about a week when it’s certain the cow won’t push. On top of the hazards of losing the cow it’s best that she is culled after prolapsing. Damage to the uterus is often extensive enough that she won’t calve again or will just experience either the same problem or different ones year after year.

Twisted Uterus

  This is a rarer birth complication that is more severe and harder to fix than a leg back or a breech. A uterus can become twisted through the cow eating large amounts of heavy feed (eg. straw, silage, etc.) and this creates a ridge of tissue that blocks the birth canal. There is no way to get the calf over this ridge instead a person would have to try to straighten out the uterus in order to pull the calf. If this doesn’t work a caesarean is once again needed with great haste. This is another situation where it is hard to tell if the cow is in labour and therefore she could be pushing for large periods of time without you knowing. This constant pressure on the calf can be fatal.



Assistance Methods

  There are two options when it comes to calving assistance. They are both straight forward even though there are slight deviances in procedures depending on who’s conducting it.

[#Pulling a Calf]

Pulling a Calf

  Pulling a calf is the less invasive technique. Any farmer can complete this form of assistance although some prefer to send their animal to a veterinarian if the situation is puzzling them in some way. All that it involves is lining up the calf, putting a chains or ropes on both feet and pulling. There are little crank devices available now that apply constant pressure so you don’t jerk on the calf’s legs and hurt it. The main thing you have to remember when pulling is that the cow is confined in a head gate and therefore incapable of immediately tending to her calf. It is up to you to remove all the mucus for its nose and mouth and make sure that it’s breathing regularly. There can also be too much stress on the calf during a pull, particularly if it is a large calf, and this can lead to complications, sometimes fatal, later on.


  A caesarean or C-section is when the calf is too large to pull, the uterus is twisted, the twins are too tangled to be able to pull them or some other complication arises. Few farmers are comfortable doing this and it is usually left up to vets. The procedure involves the freezing of the cow’s rear half which is then followed by a foot and a half long vertical incision just before the hipbone. The incision is made through the skin, meat and eventually uterus lining until the calf is reached. Then chains are placed on the feet and the calf is hoisted out of the cow. From here on it’s a simple matter of sewing up the incision. There are generally three layers sewed separately, one for the uterus lining, one for the meat and one for the skin. The two inner linings are sewed with dissolvable stitching the outer layer must be cut out once the incision is healed. A cow that has received a c-section must be watched closely to make sure that she doesn’t become infected. Other than this there are no worries except for the normal ones of the amount of stress on the animals.



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