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Calving Difficulties and Solutions
Published: October 14, 2021

At calving, it may be necessary to assist cows and treat the newborn calves.  Stage II labor in cattle is the stage of contractions and the stage when the calf is born.  This stage begins with the first appearance of the water bag and ends with the birth of the calf.  This may sound easy but there are exceptions. A cow could be in stage II labor and show no evidence at the vulva if the fetus is abnormally positioned preventing any portion of the calf or membranes to be visible at the vulva.  These cows will only walk around with their tails out and straining. If you see this, the cow is likely having trouble.  Dr. Glenn Selk, from Oklahoma State, recommends monitoring heifers for only 1 hour and monitoring mature cows for only 30 minutes before examining them if the calf is not born.  Although the literature says Stage II labor can last 2-4 hours, Dr. Selk believes this is too long to wait. If you wait two hours to check on calving, you may lose a lot of calves.

Always perform a vaginal exam before pulling on any portion of the fetus. Attempting to deliver the calf if the cervix is not dilated will tear the cervix by pulling on the fetus and likely cause the cow to be infertile in the future.  If the cervix is not dilated or aggressive pulling does not result in progress, call your veterinarian. If you damage the birth canal, your veterinarian’s only option will be a cesarean.  Once the calf is born, do not hang them upside down or over a fence, although that used to be the norm, because doing so actually interferes with breathing and causes them to lose stomach fluid.  Instead, tickle the nose with a piece of straw to stimulate them to breathe and carry a large suction bulb to suction out the airway.   

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