Adaptation to Life Outside the Uterus

Calf in sternal recumbancy

To fully understand why calves that have experienced dystocia have problems adapting to life outside the uterus, you should have a basic understanding of what normally occurs in the newborn calf. The functions of virtually every organ system and every metabolic process in the calf must change following delivery. Within a few minutes the calf must start to breath, remove it's own waste products, generate and maintain heat, alter and maintain blood flow, begin to stand and walk, and find it's own food source. All of these processes are interrelated and dependent on one another. When one system fails the others follow in a domino effect. For example, in order to maintain body temperature the newborn calf must stand, move around and nurse, however, well oxygenated blood must get to the tissues in order for the calf to get up. If the calf is hypoxemic (not enough oxygen in the blood) the calf will not get up and nurse and hypothermia (low body temperature) will follow.

Every newborn calf will have some degree of hypoxia (decreased oxygen in the blood), and acidosis (increased metabolic and respiratory waste products). Normal calves will be able to overcome the hypoxia and acidosis by breathing, moving about, and eating. Calves that experience dystocia are less likely to overcome the hypoxia and acidosis because they are slow to rise, unable to maintain body temperature, and slow to nurse.

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