Calving 2023: Advice from a Farm Vet
That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, spoke to a farm vet ahead of calving 2023.
Across two separate articles, we share some of their tips based on their professional experience. As always, it is important to seek your own veterinary practitioner’s advice and expertise.
Our first article focused on when to intervene in a calving case, examining cows to identify possible complications, the importance of owning and maintaining a calving jack and coloured-coded calving ropes.
This post looks at calf presentation, dilation, facilities, delivery methods and positioning calving ropes.
Presentation and delivery method
- Calf presentation: “When handling your cow, identify the calf’s position. The correct position is anterior, which is head-first, where the two front feed and head move through the pelvis first. But any other position, for example, where the calf’s head is turned back or one of the legs are turned back, is abnormal and is more than likely going to require assistance.”
- Dilation: “Before beginning to use a calving jack, ensure the cow is fully dilated. If a cow is fully dilated (open), you will be able to get your hand through the cervix and around the calf.”
- Facilities: “Avoid calving a cow in a crush; opt for a calving gate in a calving pen instead. With a crush, you do not have the leverage or the room to operate the jack or to escape if necessary. A calving gate takes the pressure off you and the cow, so it is a must-have for every farm and not a luxury item.”
- To pull or not to pull? Delivery method: “Some calves will be born without assistance, while others will require intervention with a calving jack or a C-section. If two people pull a calf’s leg each simultaneously and the shoulders engage and come through the pelvis, more than likely, the calf should progress in 99% of cases. Generally, shoulders are going to be the widest part of a calf. If the shoulders come through, generally the backend will too. But if the shoulders do not engage, a C-section is a high possibility.”
- Knowing when to stop: “It is key that you know when to stop in time when it comes to calving jacks.”
- Genetics: “Beware especially when using myostatin carrying bulls. Do not be fooled by small-sized feet.”
- Professional assistance: “If in doubt, call your vet; do not hesitate and always seek their professional opinion.”
Lube and ropes
- Using lubricating gel: “Lube can be a game-changer in calving cases.”
- Calving ropes: “Ropes can be used to provide assistance during calvings. A soft woven nylon material is easier on calves’ legs, and knots are pre-positioned on ropes for a reason, so do not tie them again yourself. It is paramount to place your calving ropes correctly, above the fetlock, with the knots pointing downwards, so that the tension is pulled through the leg of the calf. Incorrectly positioned calving ropes are a common cause of calving jack fractures. As for the farmer, back injuries can be commonly sustained due to poor posture or poor technique when assisting with calvings. Disinfect your ropes with Milton and wash in warm water.”
- Head rope: “A properly placed headrope should be placed around the calf’s ear and come down either side of its mouth. You can also attach onto the jack to give you a third pulling point. But, do not use a head rope if you do not know how to correctly, as it can cause choking incidents and jaw dislocations. Ask your vet to demonstrate best practice when assisting when a calving case.”
- Remain calm at all times.
Note: Always seek your vet’s advice.