USDA PHOTO
Knowing how to replicate the birthing process makes a difference when having to assist calving cows says Amanda Fordyce, a technical calf consultant with Milk Products LLC
USDA PHOTO Knowing how to replicate the birthing process makes a difference when having to assist calving cows says Amanda Fordyce, a technical calf consultant with Milk Products LLC

By Kindra Gordon


Calving season is coming, will you be ready? Knowing how to best support calves in their first moments of life is critical to start them on a successful journey. So it’s a good idea to spend some time thinking about your calving procedures. And, although most management practices related to calving are done with the best intentions, not all are helpful to the calf or the cow, says Amanda Fordyce, a technical calf consultant with Milk Products LLC. Here, she highlights some of the do’s and don’ts during delivery and the immediate moments after a calf is on the ground.


Don’t get pull happy

Fordyce notes that with increased technology allowing for calving monitoring, producers sometimes come to the cow’s aide too quickly. She says, “When you see a cow in labor and two hooves emerging, it is a natural inclination to grab on and help the cow along. But, this quick action may not be so helpful.” She dubs it getting “pull happy.”

Fordyce explains that as a cow gives birth, many physiological processes occur. If calving is progressing and the calf is presenting normally, the best thing you can do is continue to monitor the cow and give it time to deliver naturally. If it’s a big calf, the cow may need extra time to allow the cervix to dilate enough to deliver the shoulders, the widest part of the calf.

Also, she emphasizes that producers should take note that when cows deliver naturally, they pause for a few moments after the calf’s rib cage passes and the calf takes its first breaths of air.

She explains, “They’re not just resting. At that moment, the placenta transfers its blood supply into the calf via the still-intact umbilical cord.” This step provides an increase in blood volume to the calf. This blood provides a critical dose of red blood cells to help with oxygen transport and plasma to help keep the calf hydrated.

Fordyce suggests even if you have to assist with delivery, you can copy this process by pausing after the last rib is delivered to allow placental blood transfer to occur. The calf should start trying to breathe on its own as soon as the last rib is delivered and exits the birth canal. Then, as the back end of the calf exits, the umbilical cord will sever.

Fordyce shares that research in other species, including lambs and human infants, has shown the newborn breathing prior to the umbilical cord breaking improves heart function and stability. This, in turn, helps the newborn transition to life outside the uterus.


Do help with 

breathing

Getting the calf breathing immediately after birth is critical, and it’s a place where the producer can provide some helpful assistance, according to Fordyce. The cow should lick off the calf’s hair coat, which also helps stimulate breathing. If that doesn’t occur, she recommends drying off the calf’s body with a dry towel. Sitting the calf up on its sternum by tucking the front legs under the body (called a sternal recumbence position) can also help promote opening of the airways.

Fordyce notes that those first gasp of air the calf takes after the last rib exits the birth canal are critical and  the most effective way to clear fluid from the lungs. It also helps promote successful breathing and oxygen absorption. Poking the nostrils with clean straw or splashing cold water in the calf’s ears or forehead can help encourage the crucial first gasp.

She adds, “Don’t be alarmed if the calf has an unnatural breathing pattern for the first few minutes. Gasping and gurgling are a natural way for the lungs to establish tidal volume and capacity.”


Watch next week’s issue for a few more newborn calf care tips from Fordyce.