if the Cow/Heifer Needs Your Help
Four decisions dramatically affect the outcome of
- Frequency of observation
Recommended frequency of observation is every 1-2 hours. The ability
to perform this is based on staffing at your dairy.
Once a cow/heifer in stage 2 of labor the frequency of observation
should increase to every 30 minutes. It is important to see if
the dam is making progress in that time or not.
- Knowing when to intervene
To make decisions about when to intervene it is important to know
the normal range of time it takes for each stage of labor. All
personnel should know the guidelines for intervention and understand
why those guidelines are in place.
The guidelines below are based on the stage of labor.
Stage 1 -
Usually lasts 2-6 hours
If you do not notice any progression to stage 2 after 4
hours the cow/heifer should be examined to determine if
there is a problem. Low blood calcium (milk fever), uterine
torsion, or a calf in breech presentation can prevent
the cow from going into Stage 2 of labor. (See the glossary
for an explination of these terms.)
Stage 2 -
Intervention is needed if any of the following occur:
- If the water sac has been visible for
2 hours and you have not seen any progression (the cow
is not trying).
- If the cow has been trying for over 30
minutes and making no progress.
- If the cow has quit trying for more than
a 15-20 minute period of time after a period of progress.
Rest periods normally should not last longer that 5-10
- If the cow or calf is showing signs of
stress or fatigue -- like a swollen tongue in the calf,
yellow staining (meconium) of the fetus, or severe bleeding
from the rectum of the cow.
- If you suspect that the calf is in an
abnormal presentation, position, or posture.
Stage 3 -
If the fetal membranes have not been passed within 12 hours
after calving, intervention may be necessary. If they are
retained, treatment may be indicated. In no instance should
the membranes be manually removed. This may be detrimental
to the cow's future reproductive performance.
It may be beneficial to cut the membranes close to the vulva
in order to decrease the opportunity for contaminants (dirt,
bacteria) to obtain entrance into the reproductive tract
of the cow.
Be sure to consult with your veterinarian about proper treatment
of retained fetal membranes in your dairy cows.
It is important to realize that early intervention provides
the greatest benefit for calf survivability and future reproductive
performance of the cow.
- Determine if the calf can be delivered by forced
Once you have decided to intervene you should palpate the calf
and the birth canal: 1) to determine if the calf is alive or not
and 2) to see if it can be delivered through the birth canal of
- If the birth canal is abnormal it is time
to call for professional help.
- If the cervix is not fully dilated the cow
should be given more time for dilation or checked for other
signs of milk fever.
- If the calf's head is too large to fit through
the birth canal forced extraction should not be performed.
- Studies have shown that calves delivered
by c-section after forced extraction has failed have a decreased
chance of survival compared to calves delivered by c-section
alone. Therefore the decision to perform a c-section should
be made a early as possible and the decision to pull the calf
should be based on a realistic assessment of the likelihood
- If the decision is made to pull the calf,
you should know when to keep pulling and when to quit.
- Be sure to always correct any malpositions
prior to forced extraction.
- For a forwards (anterior) presented calf,
the head and shoulders must be able to pass the pelvic canal
or the calf cannot be delivered. The shoulders of the calf
are through the pelvis of the cow when the knees (carpi) of
the calf are at the vulva. If you cannot get both knees to
the vulva, the calf cannot be pulled without damage to the
calf or cow.
- For a backwards (posterior) calf, if the
hocks are one hand width beyond (outside) the vulva, the hips
should be through the birth canal and you should be able to
deliver the calf.
- When to call for professional assistance.
Professional assistance may not always mean a veterinarian, it
may just be someone with more experience then yourself.
Call for assistance if:
- You cannot assess the
- You know what you are
dealing with but you do not know how to correct it.
- You have been trying to correct the problem
for 30 minutes and have not made any progress