Cow giving birth

How-To with The VALiens: Helping a cow to give birth

Step 1

Find the cow or heifer. Usually a female that is in labour will go find a secluded spot away from the herd to calve out. Make sure, during the defined calving season, that you have the heavily pregnant cows close by so that you, nor they, have a long distance to travel in case any of them need assistance.

Step 2

Observe what stage of birth she’s in. A female that is in her first stages of birth will be pacing around, getting up and laying down repeatedly. When she is very close, you will see a water sac hanging down from her vulva: it’s a yellowish spherical sac. Usually, soon after you see the water sac, both the front feet will appear, soon followed by the nose. A calf in normal presentation will have the base of the feet pointing to the ground. If the base of the feet are pointing up, then you have a breach calf.

  • If she has been in that position for the last hour or two, and hasn’t progressed any further, then it’s time to get her in the head gate and help her out.
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Step 3

Restrain the cow, if necessary. If she’s down on the ground and is tame enough to let you near to start to help her pulling out the calf, then you can do the assistance right there. If not, if you have a head-gate set up nearby, get her in that where you can easily and quickly pull the calf. If you don’t have a head gate, use a gate (preferably 10′ or more) to restrain her. However, a head-gate is a more safer and better option for calving out cows, because it prevents them from backing up on you if they start to panic.

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Step 4

Clean your hands and arms from your shoulders down. If you have shoulder gloves on hand, then you should put those on. After you have put some lubricant on the gloves, reach inside the cow or heifer (through the vagina or birth canal, not the anus) to see how the calf is positioned.

  • For backward positions, don’t bother trying to twist the calf around. Put the calving chains on (with the handles) or a good flexible rope and pull the calf out as quickly as you can. But only do this if the hind feet are presented.
  • For breach positions (where the calf is arriving tail-first), you will need to bring the hind legs up so that they are positioned in the birth canal. To do this, push the calf forward into the uterus as much as you can. Next, push the flexed hock outward (or away from the calf), and swing the flexed fetlock (of the foot) back inward. Keep the fetlock and hock joints tightly flexed and bring the fetlock joint and foot over the pelvic brim (which is towards you) into the birth canal. Repeat with the other leg. Then put the chains or rope on and start pulling.
  • For head-back or head-down positions, push the calf back into the uterine cavity, cup your hand around the calf’s nose and with the other holding the calf stable, bring the head to the normal position. If you can’t quite reach the head, you can hook your fingers in the corner of the calf’s mouth to bring it part way around. Then you can do the rest as explained previously to bring the head around.
  • For fore-leg-back positions, push the calf back into the uterus, grasp the upper leg and pull it forward enough to bring the knee forward. Then flex the knee tightly and pull it forward. With the knee now tightly flexed, cup the hoof with your hand and gently but firmly bring it up to normal position.
  • For bent-toe or caught-elbow positions, you will need to push the calf back to reposition the foot or elbow. For the bent toe, pushing the calf back may help correct the malpresentation itself. For the caught-elbow, when you have pushed the calf back into the uterus, grab the leg that is more back than the other and pull it forward. Once corrected, the calf should come easily.
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If the calf is in normal position or in a position where you can pull from, put a set of calving chains or a rope (not twine, as twine is often too thin and too sharp to be used on a calf) on the front legs of the calf. Use a double half-hitch knot to put the chains on: one loop on the fetlock, the other just below the knee. Pull out and down when the cow is straining, and rest when the cow is not straining. If you have a calf-puller handy, use that too, though be careful of how quick you pull the calf out, as you could easily cause more damage if not handled correctly.

  • The calf puller should have the U-shaped part braced against the rear of the cow, with the chain attached to this part up behind the base of the cow’s tail, with the calving chains that are attached to the legs of the calf, and the leaver to ratchet the calf out upwards. Tighten up the tension on the chains. Once you have reached tension, ratchet slowly, and work with the cow’s contractions. Once you have made more tension to ease the calf out, move the puller down then back up, then increase the tension again. Repeat until you no longer need the puller (which is when the calf is half-out), then quickly unhook the chains from the puller and do the rest by hand.
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Step 5

Once the calf is out, you must try to get it breathing right away. Clean out the calf’s nose with your fingers to get all the amniotic fluid out. Tickle it’s nose with a clean piece of straw or hay, put some water in its ears to make it shake its head, or if necessary, you may have to perform artificial respiration to get the calf going. A calf should start to breath within 30 to 60 seconds after birth.

Step 6

Once the calf has given signs that it is breathing and alive, carry or drag it to a pen with clean straw, then let the new momma cow out to be with her young.

Step 7

Leave the cow and her newborn calf alone for a while to allow the cow to mother-up to the calf, clean the calf off, and urge him to start nursing. Make sure there is some hay and water for the cow to keep her happy while she gets to know her new youngster.

Edit Tips

  • Always keep track of the cow when getting ready for birth so you know where she is so you can easily find her if she needs assistance.

Do not wait a day or two after the cow has shown signs of labor. If she has started showing labour and has not progressed for at least an hour or two, then get her in where you can assist her.

  • For cows that are down and trying to give birth, but has a calf that is in need of repositioning, pull the back legs out behind the cow and get a friend to pull the tail up over her back. This will make it easier for you to go in and reposition the calf without the cow straining against you.
  • When going into the birth canal to try to push the calf back, often you reaching into the cow will stimulate her to strain against you, making it easier-said-than-done to push the calf back to reposition him.
  • Cupping the calf’s nose or foot with your hand helps prevent tearing or scraping the uterine wall, which can invite infection after the cow has calved.
  • Calves that have all four feet in the birth canal or have their backs toward the birth canal are the hardest to reposition, and are best delivered by C-section.
  • Calves that are simply too large to go through the birth canal, especially in heifers that were bred too early, need to be delivered via C-section.
  • Calving chains are the best for delivering a calf. Rope and your bare hands will work as well. Baling twine is not recommended, as there are some types of baling twine that are too thin and have too fine of threads to be used to for calving. These threads can detach and cut into the calf’s leg when being used to pull the calf out. Rope that is at least 1/2″ in diameter is the best; calving chains are made to be used on calving cows, and can be supplied a local feed store your your veterinarian.

Make sure the equipment you are using is clean and disinfected. Wash the rope or chains and handles immediately with detergent and hot water after calving and allow them to air-dry. Store them in a dry place until the next use. The same goes for the calf-puller that may have been used.

A double half-hitch to both legs of the calf minimizes injury and also prevents the rope or chains cutting into the calf’s legs, possibly cleaving the feet off from the calf. One half-hitch should be positioned on the fetlock joint of both feet, and the second half-hitch just below the knee. This helps spread out the pressure enforced when pulling out the calf and minimizes injury.

  • Pulling out and down goes with the way that cows would naturally calve out. The cow’s pelvis (not to mention gravity!) naturally forces the calf to go down and out when being pushed out. Pulling in this manner eases the pressure on the cow’s pelvis, and allows for easier birthing.

If the cow is standing up and calving, you will have to be sitting on your rear when pulling out the calf.

cow giving birth


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