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The-Vet-Group-Farm-Calving-First-Aid-1With the new season’s calves starting to make an appearance we thought it would be timely to revisit the physiology of the calving process and the common reasons why interventions may be required.
As with any medical emergency, the success of calving first aid is highly dependent on the prompt and effective action.
There are also some handy hints that can make the job a lot easier and result in fewer adverse outcomes.

Timing of a normal calving:

By knowing the normal sequence of events we can recognise when a cow requires assistance.
Within 24-48 hours of calving, the cow or heifer becomes restless, agitated and stands away from the herd. The cervix begins to open to allow the calving to proceed. This is referred to as the 1st stage of labour.
At the end of the 1st stage of labour a bluish white fluid filled bubble like bag appears at the vulva. The cow’s contractions force the calf through the water bag.
In a normal presentation the head and forelimbs then chest and finally hips are pushed through. A cow may take from 30min to 3 hours to deliver a calf. The membranes that surrounded the calf are normally expelled within 30 minutes to 8 hours of calving.


Assistance is required when

  1. The cow has been constantly straining or agitated for more than 6 hours without the water bag being presented.
  2. The water bag has been present for more than 2 hours without a calf being passed.
  3. You are unable to determine position or unable to correct calf position or if calf head and feet won’t fit in the pelvis at the same time. Lubrication, lubrication. lubrication…if you are going to attempt to calve a cow make sure you are clean and use plenty of lubricant over your arms and in the cow (2-5 litres minimum). This will help prevent damage to the lining of the cow and also reduce damage to your skin.
  4. No progress is made within 15 min of trying to assist a cow to pass the calf.
  5. The cow appears distressed, bloated, and unable to stand.

Calving tips

  • Have plenty of water containing disinfectant – wash the vulva prior to commencement and make sure your arms are clean. Wear rectal gloves when possible. Wash regularly during the process.
  • Use copious amounts of lubricant – by copious we mean 2-5 litres Lubricant is relatively cheap, and makes the entire process much much easier. Distribute the lubricant broadly within the vagina and uterus.
  • Apply chains or straps appropriately to the legs of the calf. Chains should be positioned as illustrated using half hitches, to distribute the force across multiple joints of the leg.
  • Use pulling devices where you can carefully control the force or remove the force at an instant if the cows starts to sit. Vets tend to use calving pullys, alternatives include calving jacks. Motorbikes or wirestrainers are not recommended.
  • Always check for a second calf no matter how large the first calf appears – vet calls in subsequent days to remove a wrotten calf are not uncommon.
  • Work with the cows contractions, don’t rush.
  • If using a head snare, be careful to apply it correctly, and be careful of the force you apply.

Once you have decided to call for assistance it is best to leave the cow in a comfortable position and to stop trying to calve the cow. Continuing to attempt to manipulate the calf is likely to make the situation more difficult for the vet due to inflammation and possible damage to reproductive tract. If you have time (whilst waiting for the vet to arrive), provide the cow with water to drink, to maintain her hydration; have a snack and a drink to maintain your energy/hydration and get 10 litres of fresh warm water for the vet (to keep gear clean –not for hydration!). Do not administer oxytocin prior to the arrival of the vet.

If you think a cow is calved but you are unable to find the calf in the paddock always check inside the cow. This is the most common place to find a missing calf.


Calving Kit Essentials

It may sounds like common sense, but having the right equipment stored in a complete kit can make the job of calving a cow so much easier. We recommend the following items, and it pays to purchase quality equipment that won’t let you down and that will last the test of time. It pays for itself easily if you save a couple of calves or a single cow. More details are available at shop.thevetgroup.com.au

  • Two clean buckets of warm water
  • Jug
  • Mild liquid soap
  • Disinfectant (e.g. chlorhexidine)
  • Paper towels
  • Obstetrical lubricant
  • Calving chains of variable lengths
  • Calving rope/head snare
  • Calving handles
  • Obstetric gloves
  • Calving jack or pulley (experienced personnel only)
  • Resuscitator
  • 7% iodine for calf navel
  • Notepad to record calf details and reasons for the calving problem.

A note on the Prolapsed Uterus:

After a calving the cow may continue to strain (uterus) so much that she forces her breeding bag to be pushed inside out. This is often associated with low blood calcium levels and on-going contractions. Place a clean wet towel over the uterus to protect it from further damage. CALL YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY – the quicker this post-calving problem is attended to, the better the cow’s chance of survival.