Calving difficulties in beef cattle

Calving difficulties in beef cattle
M.E. Howell, W.A. Zollinger, and D.E. Hansen Calf death at or shortly after calving results in losses of over 3.5 million calves annually in theUnited States. About 45% of these losses arecaused by dystocia (delayed and/or difficultparturition). The two principal factors involvedin dystocia are size of calf and age of cow.
occuring in mature cows, it’s apparent that thegreatest concern is in younger cows, especiallythe 2-year-old heifers. Size of calf is largelycontrolled by genetics.
Stages of parturition
A review of the stages of parturition and the calving process will help you make wise deci-sions on how to handle calving problems.
Stage 1: Preparation for parturition
Parturition actually begins a few days before delivery of the calf. It’s usually not possible toknow exactly when the cow will deliver, so youshould use the following indicators: relaxation In a backward delivery, the soles of the feet of the ligaments around the genitalia, swelling are up, and the first joint of the leg (pastern) of the vulva and udder, and dripping of co- down or stand and move around in a nervous, Stage 2: Parturition
restless fashion. Many times, she will lay back Early in the parturition stage, the liquid down and continue with the delivery. As the cervical seal or water bag will extrude from the normal delivery continues, you can see the nose vulva, and the membrane walls will break. The cow will become restless and leave the main With the presentation of the calf, delivery herd. Contractions continue, and the calf is moves quickly to completion. Sometimes, a cow pushed against and through the cervix.
will stand during this phase. Standing as the As this stage continues, usually for 30 min- calf’s shoulders pass through the pelvic canal utes to 1 hour, the calf’s feet should be the first assists in postioning the calf for delivery: thing you see. The nose and head should soon 1. this arches the calf’s hips high through the The position of the feet as they become visible 2. the use of gravity helps in completing the will give you an indication of the calf’s position.
In a normal, forward-position delivery (feet andhead first), the soles of the front feet are pointed Michael E. Howell, Extension agent (livestock), down, and the joint of the leg bends down Malheur County; William A. Zollinger, Extension beef specialist; and Donald E. Hansen, Extensionveterinarian; Oregon State University.
In most cases after delivery, the cow will clean and dry the calf off by licking the haircoat. This helps remove the membranes fromthe calf and helps stimulate blood circulation.
When you don’t see progress after 2 hours of labor, find out what’s going on. In first-calfheifers, you should determine possible causesfor delay after an hour. You’ll need to determinethe position of the calf, whether or not it’s stillalive, and what’s causing the delay in delivery.
If all calves were presented in the normal position, there wouldn’t be any problems exceptin the heifers with calves that are too large topass through the birth canal.
Stage 3: Cleaning after calving
In this stage, the placenta (afterbirth) is passed. This normally occurs within an hour ortwo, but it can be retained for several hours.
Cases of retention involving normal delivery areoften the result of fatigue.
Figure 2.—A typical pelvic opening of the beef female placentas, you should check diet ration forprotein and energy values. Any of severalmineral deficiencies—selenium, for example—may also cause this problem.
Using calving equipment
know how to use it—isn’t very much help.
Preparation for calving
When you use the stainless steel OB chains, it’s important to place them properly on the calf’s legs to reduce the chance of a broken leg or calving time can mean the difference between a dead or a live, healthy calf. Consider carefully The best arrangement is a double half-hitch, this list of equipment that you should have where the first loop is placed above the fetlock and the second half-hitch is placed below the dewclaws. Apply traction steadily, alternating This procedure helps to walk the shoulders of the calf through the pelvis of the cow. It’s important to apply the traction in an upward direction until the calf’s shoulders are through the pelvis. Then a downward pull is needed to help move the calf’s hips through the wider portion of the cow’s pelvis. Always use plenty oflubricant during this procedure.
In addition to the standard calving equip- It’s important to remember the shape of the ment, you should also consider the following cow’s pelvis (figure 2). The narrowest part of the pelvis is at the bottom where it’s pinched together. The upper portion of the pelvis is wider, and the widest portion is an angle of about 45o across from top to bottom.
leave the birth canal, the calf’s hips are raised up toward the top of the pelvis, where it’s wider.
Sometimes a hiplock occurs. In this situation, a quarter turn of the calf will move it to a position where the pelvis is widest and (therefore) provides extra room for the delivery.
When the calf is large or its head tends to move down or to the side during delivery, ahead snare can be quite effective in a normalforward presentation. Slight traction on the head Figure 3.—Calf presented with its head in the birth Figure 4.—Two front legs presented with calf’s head canal but with one or both forelegs retained will stretch out the neck and close up the Push the calf backward a little and lift the shoulders to allow the calf to slip through the You may need both arms for this maneuver.
Proper placement of the head snare is impor- You should try to cover the calf’s hoof with your tant in reducing the chance of neck or spinal hand to prevent injury to the uterine lining of cord injury. Place the loop behind the poll, under the ears and through the mouth. This maycause the mouth to gape open, so be careful to Difficult head positions
ensure that the incisors do not cut the birth canal.
solve. For example, a calf that has his nose slight traction to the head—only enough to keep down, and the bridge of the nose is butting up it in the proper position. The pressure is placed against the brim of the pelvis, may be harder to correct (figure 4). If you don’t correct this position, the calf’s head can fall down between puller is important. Most of the calves that die the forelegs, which will prevent the delivery during assistance, die because of improper use of a mechanical puller. Experience is the best This is generally easy to correct early in delivery by grasping the calf’s mouth or nostrils Proper placement of the strap on the cow’s and pulling the head up into the normal posi- rump allows for some downward pressure on tion in the pelvis. If the calf’s head is to one side, the lever end of the puller, to help lift the calf up use the same procedure to correct it.
However, there’s a chance of breaking the Always use plenty of aseptic lubricant before jaw of the calf if you use excessive force to pull and during assisting procedures—it’s vital for the head into the canal. It’s generally recom- easy delivery as well as for protecting the mended that after correcting this malposition, delicate tissue of the birth canal and vagina.
you should proceed with a gentle assisteddelivery.
Backwards calf
Abnormal presentations
This is another problem that’s sometimes Forefeet back
seen (figure 5). The first step in attempting to One of the most common calving problems— solve this problem is to make sure that what and the easiest to correct—occurs when one or you think is going on is in fact the case. Put your both of the forefeet are back and the head is arm inside and along the top of the legs until presented in a normal position (figure 3).
you find the tail. The tail should be next to the To correct this problem, push your arm into the point of the shoulder and elbow of the calf.
Figure 6.—Calf presented in a breech position After locating the tail, bring your arm out to other to walk the hips through the pelvic the hock joint. If it’s the hock, the joint should bend downwards toward the cow’s feet.
gentle, and be quick. Do not try to turn the calf Calf upside down
Sometimes, you may find a calf that’s not down in the birth canal. An upside-down calf This is another problem that causes concern.
will, of course, have a knee joint there, and it As we mentioned earlier (“Using calving equipment,” page 2), you can sometimes avoid After you determine that the calf is indeed this by arching the calf through the pelvis with a coming backwards, apply plenty of lubricant downward pull. If the hiplock is severe, rotating and deliver the calf, as is, backwards. Be gentle the calf a quarter turn will place the hips in the Never try to turn a backwards calf around.
You can do this easily by grasping the calf There’s not enough room or time, and you can cause tremendous damage to the uterine tissue around. Use plenty of lubricant. Sometimes, you may need to push the calf back a little ways to As you’re pulling the calf backward, you correct the problem (this isn’t always possible).
must remember that the umbilical cord of thecalf is going to impact on the rim of the pelvis Very abnormal presentations
much quicker than in a normal delivery. This Sometimes you’ll see a calf upside down, will cut off the circulation of blood to the calf for a short time—and may be life-threatening.
C-section, or try to rotate the calf to an upright Once you’ve decided to pull a backwards calf, you must move quickly to deliver a live This may mean rolling the cow over to get the calf moving so you can bring the legs of the calfto a position where it can be turned over.
Breech calf
Always use plenty of lubricant whenever you This differs from a backwards calf—the calf is backward, and the legs are down (figure 6). Inother words, the calf’s back is being presented at Caesarean sections
the entrance to the birth canal with no feet There may be times when a C-section is the only solution. A C-section may be the only The only assistance is to enter and raise both means of saving the life of the cow and, there- rear legs up and deliver the calf backwards. In a fore, protect the investment in the cow or heifer.
backward pull, as in a forward pull, it’s advis-able to alternate the tension from one leg to the A C-section is major surgery, which means A calf should receive 10% of its body weight that you’ll probably sell the cow, and you won’t in colostrum in its first 24 hours of life. This is about a gallon of colostrum for an 85 lb calf. You another year. If the calf is lost, you can still could freeze and store colostrum for situations protect your dollar investment in the cow by To ensure a high quality and concentration of immunoglobulins, you should consider using acolostrometer to test colostrum obtained from Post partum care—the calf
other sources. Superior-rated colostrum willcontain greater than 50 mg/ml of total immuno- Helping the calf after it’s on the ground is important, especially if the cow doesn’t get upto clean the calf. Make sure the calf can breatheand that its mouth and nose are free of mucusand phlegm. By tickling the inside of a nostril, Post partum care—the cow
a reflex action or sneeze helps to clear out the Many times, problems associated with birth can create additional challenges. As a precau- Sometimes, if you’re strong and tall enough, tion against infection, you should give an it helps to clear the air passageway by holding antibiotic to any cow that has needed assistance the calf upside down and swinging it back and at birth, especially when assistance was pro- forth. Often, you’ll need a dry rag or glove to longed or when you were required to place your keep a tight grip—the legs may be very slippery.
Grasp the hind legs at the hock joints and swing the calf. Be sure the head is off the powder (5 grams), mixed with sterile water and ground. Centrifugal force will help gravity in pumped into the uterus after calf delivery.
clearing the airways and allow the calf tobreathe. If this doesn’t work, respiration may be Retained placenta
Treatment is indicated if the placenta doesn’t fall out after 24 hours. Remove only the mem- Respiration
branes that will come out easily. Don’t pull hard! There are several types of respirators avail- Treatment should include terramycin uterine able commercially. The least expensive method boluses, an intramuscular shot of penicillin or of reviving a calf is to place your hand around terramycin, and an injection of prostaglandin or the mouth, close off one nostril, and blow into the other nostril at about 6- or 7-second inter-vals.
This is very effective in getting the calf to Two types of prolapse can occur, vaginal or breathe after a difficult birth. As you continue uterine. Vaginal prolapses occur most often this attempt, someone else should be drying the before calving, and they can be corrected by calf or rubbing its body vigorously to stimulate using a Johnson button or a loose sew with umbilical tape. Uterine prolapse can pose anemergency situation.
Use iodine
Try to keep the cow as quiet as possible to Treat the navel with an iodine solution— avoid bleeding. In most cases, you can reverse the womb like a sock and reposition it back into the cow. Drug treatment could include the useof terramycin uterine boluses, penicillin or Colostrum milk
combiotic, and oxytocin to help contract the Make sure the calf gets it within the first 2 to 3 hours after birth. Colostrum is the calf’s only If professional help is needed, clean the tissue source of protection from many infectious with a warm saline solution and wrap in a wet agents. Research indicates that newborn calves are only able to absorb the immunoglobulins in The tendency to prolapse can be associated colostrum within the first 24 to 36 hours.
with specific cows or blood lines. Therefore, it’s A rapid decrease of the immunoglobulins in recommended that you identify heifers and colostrum is also noted within the first 12 hours cows that have prolapsed and cull them to help after calving. The antibody concentration in the first milking is twice that present in the second,five times that in the third milking, and tentimes that in the fourth milking.
A high percentage of uterine prolapses can For further reading
Pirelli, G., and W.A. Zollinger, Weaning Manage- 1. Synchronized pulling with the cows’ own ment for Calves, Oregon State University contractions will minimize uterine exhaus- Extension Service Circular 1371 (Corvallis, 2. After difficult births, cows are prone to This publication (and the one you’re holding, EC 1370, Calving Difficulties in Beef Cattle, at 75¢ uterus deep into the body cavity and causes a relaxation of the contraction processes.
Experience will convince you that you must get cows on their feet in a standing position within minutes of difficult births, to reduce Shipping and handling: For single copies of
Remember. . .
either publication (and for orders up to $2.50),please include 25¢.
As producers, we’re concerned about the For orders between $2.50 and $100, include welfare of both the cow and the calf. When 15%. For orders of $100 or more, or for 100 or assistance at birth is needed, it should be given more copies, please call Agricultural Communi- by trained individuals. Excessive force should cations (503-737-2513) for a quote on reduced Proper facilities and equipment, and apply- ing practical skills, can help minimize manycalving problems.
practices that allow for the proper developmentof replacement heifers and the selection of bullsthat sire lower-birth-weight calves.
Trade-name products are mentioned as illustrationsonly. This mention does not mean that the OSUExtension Service endorses these products—orintends to discriminate against products not men-tioned. Figures 1, 2, 5, and 6 are reproduced, withpermission, from John R. Beverly, Recognizing andHandling Calving Problems, Texas A&M University,Agricultural Extension Service publication B-1203,reprinted 1987.
Extension Service, Oregon State University, Corvallis,O.E. Smith, director. This publication was producedand distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congressof May 8 and June 30, 1914. Extension work is acooperative program of Oregon State University, theU.S. Department of Agriculture, and Oregon counties.
Oregon State University Extension Service offerseducational programs, activities, and materials—without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, age, ordisability—as required by Title VI of the Civil RightsAct of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of1972, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of1973. Oregon State University Extension Service is anEqual Opportunity Employer.


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