A good mechanic requires specific tools for specific jobs, just as cattle producers need specialized equipment to help during calving.
Producers should also practice with the equipment, keep it maintained, cleaned, disinfected and readily accessible.
It could save a calf or make deliveries easier and less deleterious to the cow.
Experienced cattle producers know the value of a head snare in dealing with head-back deliveries. The snare is gently placed around the ears and into the mouth and has a bit plate to go up against the teeth. It then has a loop islet hole to insert the calving handle.
Producers should never use more than one arm of pulling force to bring a head back around. The head snare can then be kept on to keep the head straight while the calf is being delivered.
To pull the head around, one can insert thumb and middle finger gently into the inner inside aspect of the eye sockets. There are tools to do this, but I feel those are best left to an experienced veterinarian.
After using a head snare, I disinfect, dry and hang it in such a way as to maintain its looped shape. It should be hung close to the calving area where you need it most. You must get it over both ears and never use binder twine to wrap around the lower jaw. A sideways pull can easily break the jaw.
Choose calving handles wisely. On some, the chains slip through too easily and on others, the chain links lock in and are hard to remove. Chains can have links that are abrasive or are very weak and break. The bottom line is, you get what you pay for.
It’s important to always double chain the calves’ front legs to avoid broken legs on a pull. This is a crushing injury and carries a much-guarded prognosis compared to a clean break where the cow has simply stepped on its calf.
Veterinarians will attempt to cast the leg breaks, but it’s obviously better to avoid them in the first place. Good handles and chains will make your life easier. A spare set can come in handy because they can easily get lost in the straw.
For lubricant, the sterile jelly that comes by the gallon works well. It keeps friction to a minimum and reduces the animal’s pain and stress. This is critical on a delayed calving, perhaps with lots of meconium staining where the calf and vagina of the cow are dry.
I do not recommend the powdered lubricants because if a caesarian section becomes necessary, it can be extremely damaging to the abdomen of the cow if any leaks in.
Pay for good lubricant and surgical soap and use copiously to minimize contamination and make your job easier.
I have written articles on resuscitation and an oxygen mask, and a respiratory stimulant may save a calf.
Situations like twins mixed up, other malpresentations such as breach births, heavily meconium-stained calves or torsions can result in an easy delivery but an oxygen-deprived calf. Timely resuscitation techniques with the right equipment can save lives. Even if the first calf of twins is dead, it might be possible to deliver the second calf alive.
When pulling a backward calf, you should also have resuscitation equipment available and make sure once the tail head passes out the vulval lips of the cow, extraction is fairly rapid.
A good calving suit that can be cleaned and disinfected can help keep you dry and the cow protected.
Use good clean water to clean the cow and make sure to clean your calving suit after use. There are many different styles of calving suits, from one piece to two piece, but all serve the purpose. It takes a few minutes to put on, but is worth it. Keep sleeves up with elastics, clamps or hemostats or wear them under the cuffed arms of the calving suit.
Choosing the proper obstetrical sleeves is also worthy of careful consideration. The thin obstetrical sleeves from the artificial insemination companies have great feel and are great for a one-time AI but are not strong enough for most calvings. Vet clinics may carry several types. There are now good pink OB sleeves that fit a woman’s smaller hands. We often use light-brown OB sleeves that are strong, fit well and have extra-long arm length.
You may need to try several kinds, but avoid the poor sleeves that can be no better at examining than using a bread bag or silage bag plastic. Pay the extra money because they will make your job easier. Also, use lots of lube. It will ultimately be easier on the cow.
Remember to be gentle when examining calving mothers because our actions are setting them up for next year.
Never examine a cow without an OB sleeve for both your benefit and the cow’s. Being unclean, not using enough lube, pulling too quickly and being rough in the vaginal exam can lead to a late or open cow next year.
Roy Lewis works as a technical services veterinarian part time with Merck Animal Health in Alberta.