Vet not always needed for difficult calving

ACME, Alta. — Calling a veterinarian for assistance during a difficult calving is a wise move but there are things producers can often do on their own.

During a women’s calving clinic in Acme, Alta., veterinarian Gordon Krebs of Didsbury Veterinary Services explained some of the equipment and techniques.

Krebs has also instructed at the University of Calgary faculty of veterinary medicine where he helped develop simulators to teach students calving techniques, such has how to handle dystocia.

Calving facilities should be clean and dry. Calves born in wet conditions are more susceptible to naval and other infections.

Krebs recommends producers have a proper maternity pen with a side opening at the top and bottom. The cow can be examined in a chute that is not a maternity pen but they may need to lie down and this cannot be done in a fixed chute.

He recommended that all producers have a calf puller, chains and a head snare.

Inappropriate use of obstetric equipment can cause broken ribs, fractured legs, broken jaws or pulmonary or myocardial injuries. Prolonged difficulties may cause swollen heads and tongues and difficulty nursing.

  • A calf jack or calf puller is a good tool, but producers must know how to properly use it. It can provide added force during a difficult delivery to help extract a calf, but should not be used unless the examiner is sure the fetus will fit safely through the cow’s pelvis.

“They are awesome to have if you know how to use it, but you need to know how to use it properly because you can hurt a calf or a cow,” Krebs said.

  • Chains come in 30-inch and 60-inch lengths. Krebs recommends a 60-inch chain. Ropes can be used but they cannot be properly cleaned.

The chain should be attached with a loop above the fetlock and a half hitch below the dewclaws. The chain should never be attached to a calf puller without the chain being double looped.

  • A head snare can be used to pull the head around. It is a metal cable placed behind the calf’s ear and then a metal fitting is placed either in the mouth or under the chain so the head can be straightened.

Stage one starts when the cervix is starting to dilute and ends with delivery of the water bag. The water bag is filled with a large volume of watery fluid with low viscosity. The amniotic sac has less fluid but is more viscous and works as a lubricant.

A cow getting ready to calve becomes restless, rises up and lies down, kicks at its belly, the tail head is up or goes off alone.

“If the water bag is not there after six hours, you need to do something,” Krebs said.

It may not yet be time to call the vet, but the cow needs to be examined internally.

In stage two, the water bag appears and ruptures. Active labour can start so the calf is delivered within two hours.

“If it is longer than two hours, you have got a problem,” he said.

Stage three is delivery of the calf. Delivery of the placenta could take 24 hours or more.

If the placenta is hanging out, do not pull it out. After any dystocia problem, in which the shoulders have difficulty clearing after the calf’s head has emerged, the cow may not properly clean out.

The cow can be given oxytocin to make the uterus contract and help pass the placenta.

“If they do not clean out after a week, phone your veterinarian,” he said.

When a producer phones a vet, the practitioner wants to know presentation, that is if the calf is frontward (anterior), backward (posterior) or breech.

When sorting out front from back feet, remember the first joint in the leg is bent in the same direction as the second joint in the front feet. For the back feet, the first joint bends one way and further up the hock bends the other way.

Most calves are born in the anterior position.

When it is time to assist the cow, Krebs said producers should never touch the calf puller until they can meet the rule of three. Both shoulders and the head of the calf (the three things) must be delivered into the pelvis by hand before they touch the calf jack.

If the shoulders and head can be engaged into the pelvis by hand, then the calf puller can be used. Work with the cow’s contractions when using the puller.

If mechanical assistance is used incorrectly, the fetal hips may be too large and hip lock could result.

Common problems in the anterior position may occur when a leg is turned back or the head is turned to one side. A head snare may be used to put the head in the correct position.

If the calf is backward, the rule of three means the tail and both stifle joints must be in the cow’s pelvis when felt by hand.

When the calf is born and needs help breathing, do not hang it over a gate to push out water. It may have water in the back of its throat or swallowed amniotic fluid.

“Imagine yourself trying to hang upside and taking your first breath. The easiest position for a calf to breathe in is called dog sitting,” he said.

The calf is placed on its chest with its back legs up along its side. It may have some mucus in its nose. Rub the chest and neck vigorously to get it breathing. Do not throw cold water on it.

The cow may have some after-calving problems.

A prolapsed uterus occurs the same day as the calf was born. It is an emergency. Do not bring the cow to the clinic; call the vet to the farm. Try and restrain the cow so the vet can put the uterus back in place. The cow can get pregnant again and will not likely prolapse again.

A prolapsed vagina cannot be fixed and the cow should be culled.

Krebs also recommends checking bovine dystocia online, where full demonstrations of calving difficulties may be viewed on YouTube.

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