Correction of Common Abnormal Presentations, Positions, and Postures

Abnormal presentations, positions, and postures are best corrected while the cow is in the standing position. Once corrected, the tests for delivery can be applied as previously described. Try to carry out all these operations when the cow is not straining vigorously. Before attempting assistance it is best to determine if the calf is alive or dead and the relative strength of the calf before attempting correction and manipulations. The reflexes used for determining are:

1) Withdrawal reflex- Pinching between the digits of the hoof, and the calf withdraws its limb in response.
2) Suckle reflex- Placing a clean hand in mouth you can feel the calf's mouth close or tongue move.
3) Push in the calf's eye- Calf usually responds by withdrawing head.
4) Check for heartbeat- For a frontwards calf, run hand down along side of the chest and feel for the heart beat, or in a backwards calf feel for pulsation in the umbilical cord.
5) Rectal reflex- In backwards calf, sticking finger in rectum should elicit contraction on the finger in a good strong followed the survivability opportunities of the calf and dam are increased.

It is also important to realize that if the calf seems to be moving excessively during the calving process it could be in distress.

The second point to be made relative to providing assistance in correction is to understand that the uterus has contracted down on the calf from all directions. This has decreased the amount of room within the uterus for corrective purposes. It is generally advantageous to apply lubrication liberally within the uterus of the cow before correction is started. In some instances, the use of 4 to 5 gallons of warm water with lubricant in it will also help distend the uterus to give you the extra room needed for correction. Remember the earlier you intervene the less lube you are likely going to need because there will still be enough fluid in the uterus and it has not contracted down as much.


Lastly, the following guidelines are recommended on when to call for professional help to maximize the opportunity for a live calf. Professional assistance needs to be defined as someone who knows more about handling the problem than you do. The different level of experience among individuals will dictate what problems you are requiring assistance in. Regardless of the experience level, if these rules are followed the survivability opportunities of the calf and dam are increased. The suggested guidelines are:

1) Don't know what problem you are dealing with.
2) Know the problem and the solution, but know you are unable to handle the problem.
3) Know the problem and the solution; have tried and simply made no progress in a 30 minute period. Further delays will simply put the calf in jeopardy.


The following section contains pictures using a calving demonstration box. 


Elbow lock posture
If one or both of the forelimbs are not extended as they come into the pelvic inlet, the partially flexed elbows may lock on the brim of the pelvis and cause elbow lock. This is an easily corrected problem requiring repulsion of the body of the calf while simultaneous traction is exerted on the affected limb.




Elbow lock

A common presentation of a calf with an elbow lock is that one leg is further out of the vulva than the other leg.


Deviation of the head
If the head cannot be felt, do not assume that the calf is coming backward. The two front legs may be presented and the head deviated to the side or down between the front legs. Before pulling on the limbs, distinguish between forelimbs and hind limbs as described previously (glossary). If the head is bent back into the right flank of the cow it will be easier to correct if the left hand is used and vice versa. By grasping the muzzle or by placing the thumb and middle finger in the eye sockets, the head can be raised and directed into the pelvis. A loop of soft rope or chain placed in the mouth and looped up around the poll of the head behind the ears will sometimes be helpful. The honda of the rope may be placed next to the mouth and the rope placed above the tongue of the calf. In some instances, looping the rope around the lower jaw may be used instead. However, it is easy to use excess traction and fracture the lower jaw, so this should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. Also, if the lower jaw is grasped it can allow the sharp teeth to tear the uterus



Deviated head 

    Presentation of calf with a deviated head

These calves usually present with only two legs visible at the vulva.

Deviated head drawing

In all these cases, the head can be brought up and straightened more easily if the body of the calf is at the same time repelled further back into the uterus. This can be done by placing the hand between the front legs and pushing back the chest while the head is being pulled into the pelvis at the same time. In some instances, it is necessary to create even more room to correct the head. This may require one of the front legs to be pushed back into the uterus to create a retained front leg that is flexed at the shoulder. In the case where the head is between the front legs this needs to be done first. This would allow you to manipulate the head into first a lateral deviation and then correct as previously described. It should be pointed out that many of the calves with the head deviated between the front legs are dead or weak before you even start. In addition, many of the calves with a deviated head will still fail the test for delivery for using forced extraction once they are corrected. Therefore, good judgment needs to be used before putting excess stress on the calf during assistance.

Retention of one or both forelimbs
The calf may have the head out, but one or both forelegs retained. Secure the head by placing a chain behind the poll and through the mouth, then lubricate the head and push it back into the uterus. Then search for the limbs one at a time. If fully retained, the limb should be grasped just below the knee (carpus) and the limb be pulled until bent at the knee. Once this is accomplished you can generally slip a hand down the limb and grasp the hoof. It is necessary to cup the hoof such that you are providing protection for the uterus of the cow as you continue in the correction process.
To correct, now opposing forces need to be applied simultaneously. The knee should be repelled by one hand in a forward-upward-lateral direction and traction on the hoof in a medial-backward direction by the other hand. These directions are relative to the cow. It may be necessary to use a small rope or chain and place around the leg above the fetlock and between the digits of the hoof if getting both arms in the cow is a problem. If the other leg is retained, it is corrected in a similar fashion.

   Retained forelimb 


Retained forelimb drawing

Retention of one leg

                         Retained forelimbs drawing          

Retention of both legs                

Backward Presentation; Breech Posture
The correction of this abnormal posture is the same as the retained forelimb. First, you find the hock and pull it until it is in the flexed position. Then, you slip your one hand down to cup the hoof. The hock should be repelled by one hand in a forward-upward-lateral (outward) direction and traction on the hoof in a medial-backward direction by the other hand. In some instances, the calf has to be repelled back into the uterus before correction can be made. Occasionally, it is difficult to get both hands into the cow for correction. In these instances, the use of a toilet plunger as a repulsion device against the rump of the calf has worked effectively.

Breech Drawing

    Breech calf

You may not see anything at the vulva. When you palpate a true breech you will only feel the tail






Upside down position of the calf
Occasionally, we encounter an abnormal positioning of the calf in either the frontwards or backwards presentation. In such a case, each forelimb should be secured with a chain and carefully pulled into the birth canal. The most common method is to cross the limbs of the calf, one on top of the other, and try to rotate the calf. The head should be rotated at the same time. Rotation is facilitated if the hand can be placed under the withers or under the shoulder joint of the calf, the object being to lift the chest upward and at the same time attempt to rotate the body. Insure that you use plenty of lubrication.

Upside down calf with retained forelimb

Correction of an upside down backwards calf is usually easier. If the calf is on its back with the hind limbs in the passage, cross the hind limbs. Apply the tests for delivery previously mentioned for a backwards calf and continue rotation of the calf if you find you are able to pull the hips of the calf through the pelvis of the cow easily.


Transverse Presentation
Occasionally, calves lie with their back against the pelvic opening or with all four limbs extended into the birth canal. Determine the hind from the forelimbs and if possible, deliver hind limbs first so you don't have to worry about the head. Since the calf is on its side, it's easier to rotate the calf's body by the hind legs than the forelegs. This requires repulsion of the forelimbs of the calf and usually the trunk of the calf as well. In most instances, this is a difficult correction to make and a c-section may be necessary to deliver the calf.

Transverse presentation drawing  

  Transverse presentation

If twins enter the vagina one at a time, there is generally no problem due to a smaller size. However, occasionally twins are presented together and block the birth canal. In most of these cases, one comes frontwards and the other backwards. Extract the closest twin first. If in doubt, first extract the twin presenting hind legs, after first repelling the other twin back into the uterus.

Top of Page


Table of Contents


Next Page


Previous Page



Colorado State University LogoIntegrated Livestock Management Logo