Spring calving is upon us so it is timely for a quick refresher on the basic approach to an assisted calving. Following the steps below may save you, the cow and the calf some time, energy and pain.
Regardless of if the calf is showing or not, follow the steps below:
Assess the demeanour of the cow. If she is obviously ill with sunken eyes or if she is down in the paddock then call the vet. Their examination will provide vital information and allow a likely prognosis to be given that will assist in your decision on whether to treat her or not.
Clean the back end of the cow AND your hands/arms. Use plenty of lube (both into the vagina and on your arms/hands). Ideally wear long sleeved gloves to protect yourself against any potential infections, such as leptospirosis, through broken skin.
Examine the vagina and see if it feels normal. If you are unsure and/or you identify a tear, or a twist is suspected, then vet assistance is required. If what you are feeling is uncertain then do NOT spend too much time (NOT more than 10 minutes) trying to figure it out as this can cause trauma to the vagina which leads to bruising/swelling of the tissue, making a subsequent vaginal delivery a lot more difficult.
Examine the cervix. How open is it and do you think you can pull a calf through the space presented? If you're unsure call the vet.
Determine if the calf is alive by gently seeing if it reacts to:
- Your finger in its mouth
- Pinching it between the toes
- Applying gentle pressure on its eye
Response by the calf to any of the above indicates the calf is alive so continue to calve the cow and be careful with chain/rope placement around head and feet so as not to cause injury. If there is no response to any of the above the calf may have died.
How is the calf presented? Make sure you know what you have before you pull! You need two front legs and head OR two hind legs - If you have no idea what you are feeling CALL THE VET as potential presentations are many and varied.
Will it fit through the pelvis? This is a judgement call that gets easier with experience but points to remember are:
- Feet and head must fit in the pelvis at same time - don't pull if it won't fit!
- For traction, use pulley or calving jack - do NOT use uncontrolled force (i.e. tractor, bike)
- Risk of calving paralysis rises with increased duration of calving
Lastly, but most importantly, remember the TEN MINUTE RULE! It applies to all stages of the process but particularly for pulling - more than 10 minutes is taking too long so call your vet if:
- No progress in 10 minutes
- Very slow progress in 10 minutes
- Not ready to pull in 10 minutes
Hopefully these tips are of some help, and remember, we are here to support both you and your cow(s) if you need us!