After a noontime complimentary lunch, the second part of the Cattle Breeding Class — reported in the Jan. 25 issue of Country folks — covered calving protocol.
Dr. Kimberly Crowe, Catskill Veterinary Services, PLLC, discussed when to move cows into the maternity pen, whether a dry cow pack or calving/sand pen, and during which stage of labor. She said dry pack was easier — but does get crowded in August and September. She suggested checking to find those cows that are close to calving, and then moving them to 10 by 10 or 10 by 12 calving pens.
When the cow is in stage one of labor, she’ll start with uterine contractions every 15 minutes, which will then progress to every few minutes. She will rotate the calf into position, as the calf is usually down in uterine horn and needs to rotate to get into birth position. She cautioned that if you try to assist too early, the calf will not be in normal presentation or position for delivery, as she is not ready — and if assisted too early, the calf can have problems.
The cow will show signs of discomfort, acting restless, searching and nesting. If the calf is moving around a lot she will be frequently lying down and rising shortly after. With heifers this stage of labor will take four to six hours; with cows usually three to four hours.
Stage two involves abdominal contraction and delivery of the calf. The calf enters the birth canal, which forces abdominal contractions. Dr. Kim said this stage generally lasts two to four hours in cows and three to six hours in heifers. If the water bag doesn’t break, you will have to break it. Dr. Kim suggests moving cows that are in Stage one or Stage two of labor; however heifers will suspend calving if moved too early, and the duration of calving is associated with dystocia and stillbirths. She also said if you do not have a separate pen or pack, then wait until Stage two with the feet presenting to move them, unless you can move them days ahead. Dr. Kim noted this way of thinking has changed over the past 7-10 years; it is now believed that when stage two starts you can move the cow. She went on to say normal birth in cows occurs one to two hours after the water breaks; in heifers it is two to three hours after water bag breaks. The new methodology calls for waiting a steady progression of 45-minute increments before assisting in the calving process.
“This is a change over us watching her every 15 minutes, which may hinder the process. If there is any disruption in the rule, then assist.”
Some factors affecting dystocia or difficult birth include a calf that is too large or malformed (if this is a case of having the mother mismatched, try a smaller bull or breed); the influence of the cow or age of a heifer; milk fever in cows; uterine torsion; and fetal presentation, position, or posture such as a breech or head back.
Help if there is no progress after four hours in Stage one. Make sure the initial exam is done carefully — and be scrupulously clean — washing your hands and arms as well as the cow’s birth passages thoroughly, using gloves and clean implements, such as a clean water bucket. If the calf is out further than the head, it cannot breathe from the umbilical cord, and you must get it out, using plenty of lubrication. (However, do recognize your own limitations, and if you cannot manage the problem, stop before the cow is exhausted and call your veterinarian.)
It is important not to lose the head during the process and you should be pulling first downwards, not upwards, and applying lubrication all the way. Putting chains on correctly involves using two pilots of traction, and evenly distributed through weight so not to fracture leg or ligaments. The pull should apply the force of 1-2 people; use the calf jack very carefully.
A backwards calf can come out but the umbilicus gets pinched down and it will not be able to breathe, so you’ll need to pull faster. Manual dilation and lubrication is mandatory in the dystocia — the calf may be breathing fluid as she can no longer breathe on her own. Again, don’t overestimate your expertise and call for help if necessary.
With twins you have to make sure when you see two legs, that they are from the same animal and same pair of front or back. (you can tell by how they bend — a hock will bend the opposite way than a carpus. Know which way the legs should bend and be directed by that.)
And check for another calf after stage two is complete.
Stage three is when the placenta passes — generally by 12 hours. If cow strains a bit and you see membranes no treatment is needed until about 24 hours; antibiotics may be administered if the cow acts sick.
The calf’s umbilical cord should be dipped with a tincture of iodine (2.5 percent) to prevent against bacterial disease. The cow should take adequate care of the calf’s needs; however it is important to see that the calf gets enough colostrum — you can feed extra colostrum within four hours of calving — up to four quarts for the first and second day. If necessary, heat lamps and calf blankets can be used to dry off the calf and keep it warm.
A successful reproduction program depends on knowing where the cow is in her cycle; knowing when to assist and when to let the cow calve on her own.