Spring calving season is just around the corner. This also means calving problems and the need to intervene and assist in the delivery of the calf. While this may seem a straightforward procedure, many things can make for a more difficult and less successful outcome. Here are several mistakes made before, during and after calving that can lead to problems for the calf and the cow.
1. Do not use sawdust or newspaper for bedding your calving area. Calves can inhale sawdust, causing lung damage. It can also get into the cow’s reproductive tract, causing infection. Newspaper sticks like glue to a wet newborn calf. Use straw bedding for the best environment.
2. Avoid moving cows/heifers multiple times when they are in labor. Research has shown that labor time can be increased as much as 9-16 hours by moving during Stage 2 labor (the water bag is showing). Now I know that sometimes moving during Stage 2 labor is unavoidable; give the cow or heifer some time to get accustomed to her new surroundings so that labor can resume.
3. Do not rupture the water bag. Contrary to some popular beliefs, rupturing the water bag does not speed up calving. Rupturing the sac can decrease uterine contractions due to decreased internal pressure. The fluid also cushions the calf’s head as it enters the birth canal.
4. Do not use soap and water as lubrication. The soap actually breaks down and removes the cow’s natural lubricants. Improper lubrication can lead to increased uterine and vaginal wall trauma during birth, and make pulling more difficult. Use commercially available lubricant when assisting with labor and delivery. These are available from your veterinarian or animal health supplier.
5. When pulling a calf, try to pull only when the cow pushes. Do not pull constantly. When the cow relaxes, maintain your position; this will also stimulate cervical and vaginal dilation.
6. When pulling a calf in a normal head first position, stop pulling when the last rib is delivered. This allows several things to happen. First, blood from the placenta can be transferred to the calf before the umbilical cord breaks. Second, mucus can drain from the nasal passages and the throat, often allowing the calf to take a breath. Thirdly, you can now rotate the hips of the calf approximately 45 degrees to facilitate extraction of the remaining part of the calf.
7. Do not hang a calf upside down or swing it to remove fluid. I have been guilty of this myself in the past, but it does not remove fluids from the lungs; instead, it allows the abdominal organs to compress the lungs, making it difficult for the calf to breathe. It is better to place the calf in a sitting position on its chest, allowing both lungs to expand. A clean piece of straw to gently scratch the nasal passage can stimulate a cough to expel mucus. Respirators are available to expand the lungs; make sure you are trained by a veterinarian before using such a tool.
Following these pieces of advice can lead to more live calves that are less stressed immediately after delivery, and decreasing postpartum disease issues with your cows. Once again, good luck delivering those calves.