It is always best of cows can calve on their own. Unfortunately that is not always possible. How do we know when it is time to step in and help?
The first signs of calving can be easy to miss. A cow will become restless, laying down, then getting up, wandering around sniffing the ground. Often she will carry her tail high.
When there is a problem it will usually be there at this stage. The subtleness of the signs can make it hard to know the cow needs help.
If we can see that a cow is in this stage of delivery and nothing has happened after six hours it is time to step in and investigate.
Once the water bag is out it is easier to see how the delivery is progressing. When the water bag has been out for awhile it will have a dry appearance. That is a good way to tell how long the bag has been out if the cow wasn’t recently checked. With the water bag out, regular progress should be made every half hour, an hour at most.
After we see the bag we should see the feet, then the nose, then the head, in half hour intervals. If not the cow should be brought in and assisted.
When the feet become visible we can check for other issues. There should be two feet with the bottom of the hooves facing down. Only one hoof, or two hooves with the bottom pointing up, are sure signs of trouble and help should be offered immediately.
Once the calf is half way out it is normal for the cow to take a break. Letting the calf hang allows the fluids to clear from the lungs and lets the hips rotate into proper position to finish the birth. Don’t rush to interfere at this stage.
There is a strong link between calves that have trouble calving, and later treatment for sickness and health issues. Avoiding calving trouble as much as possible, before reaching that stage, makes for a healthier herd. Choosing large frame heifers and low birth weight, easy calving bulls are good steps towards easier calving.
Once a cow has calved she will usually finish cleaning, passing the placenta, on her own within twelve hours. If she doesn’t, don’t pull it out!
Forcing the cleanings out can damage the uterus causing difficulty breeding back and maintaining pregnancy. It is best to leave the cow loose in a dry, clean area. Movement will help finish cleaning.
If the placenta hasn’t been shed and the cow starts to act sick, a veterinarian can help treat the infection.