Working with cows close to calving takes care

Producers encounter many different reasons to handle cows in late pregnancy.

Some of these procedures are definitely needed, but one must always ask about the benefit gained versus the stress of running heavily pregnant cows through the chute.

Vitamins A and D and in some cases selenium were previously given if deficiencies were determined during pregnancy checking late in pregnancy. Nutritionists would tell us most of these needs were met using proper ration balancing and adequate levels of micro and macro minerals.

Deficiencies can occur because of uptake of the minerals or competing elements. As a result, these nutritional boosts may be necessary in some circumstances. Scours vaccines are sometimes given close to calving, depending on the brand of scours vaccine that is used.

Veterinarians have seen instances where cows may go down after handling. We must remember that heavily pregnant cows are susceptible to metabolic problems. They are starting to pool lots of calcium in the udder with milk production and colostrum production and are also experiencing increased exertion.

The fetus is starting to grow rapidly in the last month of gestation, and there is further strain on the pregnant cow, such as increased pressure on the cow’s kidneys from filtering the calf’s blood and being immunosuppressed because cortisol is what initiates the calving process.

As a result, these heavily pregnant cows must be coddled.

Producers who run their cows through the chute so close to calving should pay attention to things such as bad feet, swollen udders with potential mastitis, weakness and low body condition score.

Make sure footing is extremely good, especially when handling heavily pregnant cows, because slipping and tripping are heightened.

It’s also a good time to practise low stress cattle handling —no prods or canes.

As well, remember that heavily pregnant cows become extremely wide and can get stuck in certain handling systems. There have been instances where we simply can’t process the cows because of their huge size. The worker loading the tub system must be aware of this and sort out extremely wide or low statured cows because some systems are narrower lower down.

If any cows seem weak or staggering, it may be wise to have a veterinarian treat them and check blood levels to see if any or a combination of the macro minerals calcium, phosphorus and magnesium are low.

Producers may want to have a couple bottles of calcium combination products on hand to give either intraperitoneally or under the skin, if indicated on the label. Your veterinarian may give it intravenously and listen to the heart because giving it too fast can cause heart arrhythmias and even death.

Downer cows must be kept bedded with good footing and feed and water. Your veterinarian will make sure there are no injuries and that the fetus is alive and doing well.

Good cow lifters are on the market if necessary. One in particular, called Upsi Daisy, lifts the cow from around the udder and has a sling/harness for the front end. This causes no damage when cows are lifted.

Watch for other conditions that cause cows to lose condition close to calving. They can also be checked for potentially carrying twins, kidney infection, peritonitis and, in older cows, missing or poor teeth.

Cows that go downhill close to calving may either abort or give birth to premature calves.

Abortion is a bit of a protective mechanism, and you and your veterinarian may reach the dilemma of possibly inducing the cow to calve.

This has the potential of getting a live calf and taking some of the strain off the cow that would result from carrying a close to full term fetus.

It is very tricky to do because every day that goes by brings the cow closer to term but its condition could be deteriorating.

It is a difficult decision, but one that can be easier to make if we have breeding dates and can check the viability of the fetus and the amount of good quality colostrum available to the cow.

A straight sticky mucous in the udder means the cow is too early, but a nice sticky yellow thick colostrum means it is close enough to natural calving to induce.

I use a combination of prostaglandins and dexamethasone. Both are prescription drugs, and your veterinarian will have a combination that works well for them.

Calving should happen 30 to 36 hours after the shots, but it is not an easy decision to make. Too quick results in premature calves, and the retained placenta incidence goes up considerably. Elective caesarian sections are done in extreme cases where the cow’s condition is rapidly deteriorating.

Provide individual animal care where necessary this spring, and don’t hesitate to use pain killers/anti-inflammatory drugs where necessary under the guidance of your veterinarian, especially with harder calvings or surgical procedures such as caesarian sections, prolapses or episiotomies.

You will benefit from quicker recoveries and better doing patients.

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