Written by Gary Naylor, OFN ContributorAbout eight percent of all calves born in beef cow operations die at or soon after birth. Half of these deaths are due to calving difficulty. The following are management practices to help reduce this huge economic loss to the cattle industry: About eight percent of all calves born in beef cow operations die at or soon after birth. Half of these deaths are due to calving difficulty. The following are management practices to help reduce this huge economic loss to the cattle industry:
Proper nutrition in late gestation will reduce calving difficulty. Feeding two pounds of protein will reduce the number of small, weak calves at birth. Adequate energy levels will reduce the number of cows needing assistance.
In herds where calving assistance is a problem, use bulls with lower birth weight EPD’s. Calving ease scores should be examined in the sire selection process.
Stages of Calving
The preparation phase usually lasts two to six hours. During this time uterine contractions begin and the water sac will finally be expelled. The delivery stage should take one to two hours. The calf enters the birth canal and is expelled.
When to assist
Normal delivery should be completed within two hours. Waiting too long to help will result in a dead or weak calf.
Proper Preparation of Facilities and Equipment
Cleanliness is a must. Prevent introduction of bacteria into the cow by having a clean pen and equipment.
Two clean buckets, soap for washing the cow, disinfectant, obstetrical lubricant, paper towels, calving chains, handles and plastic sleeves.
After observing a delay in delivery, examine the cow to see if the calf is in the proper position for delivery. Determine your expertise in correcting abnormal positions and call for professional help when needed.
Pulling the calf
Loop the chains around each leg. Make sure the chain is around the pastern (below the dewclaw and above the hoof). Attach the handles to the chain and pull gently. It is best to pull alternately on one leg at a time to “walk” the calf out. Once the head and shoulders are exposed, turn the calf one quarter turn to prevent hiplock. This will aid in the hips entering the birth canal.
All rear feet first presentations are an emergency because the umbilical cord becomes restricted at the pelvic area. The calf will suffocate if the delivery process is slow.
Starting the calf breathing
Clean the mucus from the nose and throat and tickle inside the nostril to get the calf breathing. You can also apply alternating pressure and release to the rib cage.
Disinfect the naval cord and make sure the calf nurses within one hour.
Gary Naylor is a Livestock Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension.
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