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
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.