Thursday, February 4, 2010
Birth of a Calf
The heifer in labor is my daughter's heifer she showed last year and she was concentrating on labor so completely, that she didn't mind me watching and documenting the birth for you! One of the first signs of labor in a cow or heifer is her desire to get away from everyone else. We provide a clean grass pasture for them to calve in, and if the weather is bad, we will roll out straw or hay to provide bedding. If the heifer is having trouble we will bring her into a barn in a stall to calve and stay close in case she needs our help. But it is by far the best situation if she will calve on her own and immediately get up to mother her calf without us assisting.
Once a cow finds her favorite spot for labor and delivery, she will begin to lie down and push. Calves should come out with their front feet first, followed by the head cradled between their front knees. The calf should be lying on its belly as it is delivered, as this is the easiest way to proceed through the cow's pelvis. The head and knees are the hardest to deliver, and once they are out, the birth should be just a few seconds to finish. Sometimes the hips of the calf may become stuck inside the pelvis of the cow; we call this "hip-locked." The best remedy for this condition is for the calf to rotate a bit to the side, freeing the largest part of the hips from the interior pelvic opening. This is usually done naturally as the cow rolls from her belly to her side during labor. Rarely do we have to help at this stage.
We check our heifers as they are due to calve about every 3 to 4 hours day and night, to make sure that they not only deliver a calf without help, but are able to get it up and sucking right away. If they do not, we intervene to make sure the calf receives the all-important colostrum. This calf was trying to stand within five minutes of birth and my daughter's heifer continued to lick it and call to it for encouragement.
Calves may be born breech and even upside down just like any baby. They may be back feet first, tail first, and even upside down. If the calf is presented in a way different from the typical way, the cow or heifer may need help to deliver the calf. Even if the calf is coming right (front feet and head first), a cow or heifer may need help to deliver. We watch closely and are always ready to help. Tonight I head to a junior high basketball game and I have planned to check for labor before I leave. If any heifers are in labor, I may miss my sons' game. It is very important to take care of our cattle--and labor and delivery are critical times to assist. But Nature is awesome--when everything works right (and it does most of the time) the product is a healthy, happy calf and mother cow.