Calving Assistance is Sometimes Necessary.
Dairy Pipeline: September 1995
Tom L. Bailey
Dairy Production Medicine, VA-MD Regional College of Vet Medicine
Cows showing signs of calving should be examined and have the vulva area cleaned with a mild disinfectant, the hands and arms of the person doing the exam should be thoroughly cleaned and plastic sleeves should be worn to prevent contamination of the birth canal and uterus. The examination should be done slowly and methodically. Check the vulva to see if it is relaxed and large enough for delivery. The vagina should be examined for obstructions like fat, a pelvic fracture, abrasions, or bleeding. The cervix should be examined to assess the degree of relaxation and dilation. The question is often asked, "When do I assist a cow in delivery?" Generally, if a heifer has been in good labor for 1.5 to 2 hours or a cow has been trying for 1 hour, without any signs of progress, an examination should be done to determine why progress is not being made. Determining whether you have a front or rear leg can be difficult. You should examine all the way up to the elbow or hock. Remember there is a joint between the fetlock and the elbow of the front leg, but not between the fetlock and the hock of the rear leg. If two feet are presented, it is important to determine if they are front or rear feet, or a combination of each. If the feet are presented upside down, think about a rear presentation or a twisted uterus. Foot retrieval for positioning must be done carefully. Always cover the foot (toe) with your hand to protect the uterine wall and vaginal area from a possible tear or puncture. Forced extraction with calf chains are preferred over ropes, as ropes can cut into the skin of the calf. The chains should be positioned in two areas, one above the fetlock and a half-hitch below the fetlock. This gives a more even distribution of force during pulling to prevent fractures of the leg. It also keeps the foot from folding under and damaging the vaginal canal during delivery. Most professionals agree NO MORE THAN THE EQUIVALENT OF 2 PEOPLE SHOULD BE USED TO PULL THE CALF. Pull with the timing of the abdominal press of the cow to help with delivery. Be careful with calf jacks because a considerable amount of force can be exerted. After the feet and head are presented through the canal, the next major obstacle is the calf's pelvis. Whether the cow is standing or on her side, pull should be directed toward the cow's hocks. If the calf experiences a pelvic lock, try delivery in a side to side motion or slight rotation of the calf. This allows only one side of the calf's pelvis to enter the birth canal at a time. After delivery, clean the area again and examine the cow's vaginal canal and uterus for abrasions, lacerations, or bleeding. These may require professional help for suturing or medication. Always check for the presence of a second calf. Cows should be made to stand after delivery and moved around for increased circulation to the muscle area of the rear limbs. Watch for signs of being wobbly or not using a rear leg. These animals may need to be confined in a small lot and kept off of concrete. Remember, care of that cow the first 3 weeks postpartum will determine how well she will produce and how soon she will rebreed. Extreme care should be taken during the calving process to ensure she has a healthy start.