Examination of the Dam and Calf

  • Determine if the cow is strong enough for delivery. In some cases, diseases such as milk fever can cause dystocia by causing muscle weakness.
  • Tie the tail out of your way. Tie the tail to the cow and not to any posts or part of the head catch so the cow does not lose her tail when she moves or leaves the area.

Tail tie                 Tail tie

  • Thoroughly scrub your hands with soap, water, and antiseptic (i.e. Chlorhexidine).

Clean metal bucket           Gloves, lube, and cleaning supplies      

  • Glove up with plastic obstetrical gloves.
  • Thoroughly wash the dam's vulva, rectum, and area around the vulva with warm water and a mild soap (i.e. Ivory soap).

Cleaning the vulva       Cleaning the vulva

  • Slowly insert your hands in the dam's vagina. It may help to tuck your thumb under your fingers.

Inserting arm into the uterus     

  • Do not rupture the water sac if the cervix is not fully dilated (if you cannot place 3-4 fingers in the cervix it is not dilated at all) Once it is fully dilated it achieves the same diameter as the vagina and becomes more difficult to identify. If the cervix is not fully dilated WAIT!
  • Use lubrication liberally - good lubrication is extremely important. If you intervene early there should be enough lubrication in the uterus, however, the longer the dystocia persists the more natural lube you lose. Water based lubes are the best to use. There are some on the market that come in a powder that you mix with water.


  • Determine the presentation, position, and posture of the calf. If these are not normal or you have encountered a delivery you have not seen before you may want to call for assistance.
  • Determining the forelimbs from the hind limbs
    In the forelimbs the fetlock and the knee bend in the same direction whereas in the hindlimb the fetlock and the hock bend in opposite directions. Keeping this in mind will help you to determine the actions to take when delivering a calf.

  • Determine if the calf is alive or not.
    The following reflexes are used to determine if the calf is alive or not:
        • Withdrawal reflex - Pinching between the digits of the hoof, the calf should withdraw its limb.        
        • Suckle reflex - Place your clean hand in the calf's mouth and feel for the mouth to close and the tongue to move.  
        • Check for a heartbeat - For a frontward calf, run your hand down along side of the calf's chest and feel for a heartbeat. If the calf is backwards feel for a pulse in the umbilical cord.
        • Rectal reflex - In a backwards calf, place your finger in the rectum of the calf and the rectum will contract around your finger.

  • The longer the cow has been in dystocia the more the uterus has contracted around the calf and the natural lubrication has decreased. If you do not have enough room to correct the presentation, position, or posture, generously apply lube within the uterus. This may help distend the uterus enough to give you the extra room needed. One way to apply the lube is to use an oral calf feeder that has a soft bag attached to the tube. The end of the tube should have a smooth end that should not cause any trauma to the cow or the calf. The tube is placed in the uterus and the lube is squeezed out around the calf. The lubricant and the application must be clean/sterile or you will contaminate the uterus and increase the likelihood of severe uterine infection.


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