Monday, March 16, 2009

How to tell when a cow is going to calve

~*~*~*please read my earlier post I have a special prayer request!!!*~*~*~*~
Okay, several people have come to my site searching in their google search for "how to tell if a cow is going to calve". So here is what I know, learned from Norm....Norm may need to fill in the blanks but I think I've got this one! I hope I haven't forgotten anything and have been complete with my information.
Signs that a cow is getting ready to calve:
  • It is hard to tell sometimes unless you know what your looking for! One of the first signs is that her bag (udder) has become full, tight, and swollen. However in a young heifer...that may not be present until after her calf is born, and we have had older cows do the same. There is always an exception to every rule.
  • She will "Spring" which means her vulva has become very loose.
  • Then you will notice a cow apart from the rest of her herd. She will probably choose some wooded area to have her baby since she knows that her new calf will be more protected there, if it is available. She will probably set out to find a spot to calve several hours before she actually gives birth. However every cow is different, the older the cow, the easier it is to calve (generally) and she seems to know when its close and time to go off from the herd.
  • Calving is generally very quick and seldom needs assistance ( will go into that in a minute)
  • Right before calving you will notice her standing, almost humped over, with her tail held out straight or upwards with a slight bend.
  • She will be very restless, laying down and getting up off and on as if she is becoming uncomfortable.
  • you will first see her water bag..a kind of white/yellow bag full of fluid, sometimes you wont find this until it breaks and she will have her hind end and legs covered in this fluid. (some cows will still walk around and graze at this point...usually the more experience ones do that sometimes.
  • Her bag might not break until the calf has started to come. She will very soon lay down and begin contractions and pushing.
  • You will first see hooves appear, they should be pointed downward. If not then the baby is breech and will need assistance.
  • The calf should come quickly usually within 10 minutes.
  • Almost immediately the cow will get up from her laying down position. And begin to clean her baby, Usually her water bag breaks in the process of giving birth, if not she should go to the head first, sometimes they will get confused and begin at the tail. A calf can suffocate if the membrane is not removed from his head. But I suggest you DO NOT approach the cow once that baby is may end up in the mud as mud. Some cows are very docile and seem to know if they or the calf need help. We have carried many tot he barn in our arms with momma following behind calmly right at your elbow. Our cows however have all grown up here and know us as well as we know them. We do get cows where we have to get them quickly and have momma follow (usually at a dead run) behind a pick up or 4-wheeler....if you have to do this, make sure she can see her calf or she will get confused and go back to where she had him.
  • This goes under complications.
  • Mom will keep her calf hidden and away from the herd for several days, sometimes for a week, until he is bigger and can walk well.
  • A calf should suck within 6 - 8 hours to absorb the colostrum that will give him the antibiotics he needs to make it. you can tell if a calf has sucked, her teats will be slick and shiny and the hair around the teat at the top on her belly will be kinda curled around. (cant think of another way to describe that)
  • Complications. you should call your vet if you are new to cattle...most farmers can handle a lot of these complications themselves
  • The calf coming breech....hooves up. Cows can have them breech but often have trouble, if you have caught the cow in the beginning of labor, walk her to the barn and into a chute to pull the calf if needed.
  • Prolapse..which is where the cows uterus comes with the calf. You should then push her Uterus back into the cow, after washing with warm water with iodine. The Uterus will often not stay in the cow, and then she must be sewn to keep the Uterus closed. She will have this problem with each not breed her after that she is best sold.
  • One hoof. the calf has probably got his head over her cervix and she will not be able to have him, she is best put into the barn in a chute and the baby will need to be pushed back in the cow and positioned correctly. You will need to reach in and feel for the head, hold your hand over the hooves so as not to tear her bag, and try to get his head positioned to be able to pull the calf...again call your vet.
  • Too large calf. This usually mostly happens in a heifer (a first time calver) The calf runs a really high risk of being still born due to the fact that the cow has probably taken too long to have the baby. She risks become paralyzed, and even death. Sometimes you can pull the calf...which brings her at a high risk for a prolapse.
  • More often than not a calf too large is born dead from suffocation, or developmental problems, and could be caused by a bull that produces big calves. - Call your vet if you can, you probably wont catch this until its almost too will have to pull this calf on the spot.
  • No hooves showing, just a nose...this means the legs are folded back and the cow cannot have the calf this will have to secure her and position the calf by entering in with your hand flat against the calf's head and gently push him back and then reach for the legs and try to bring them forward, careful to hold your hand over the hooves...most often a vet need to be there to perform a C-section, you risk not only loosing the calf, but the cow also.
  • twins! Yes they do have twins, though most farmers we have talked to don't get them very often. Usually its the bull that throws the twins. last year we got 6 sets of twins, which is highly unusual! Problems arise when only one is born and the other is stuck or breech, mom doesn't have time to clean the mucosa off the calf's head and he ends up suffocating. Watch your cow often...usually a calf is up on his feet within 2 hours nursing. A lot of times she only recognizes the first calf born, and the other is rejected and left there. Sometimes its immediate if she is going to reject the calf, sometimes its days later. both calves must be observed sucking. If you don't see both with her, you must bring the orphan in and bottle feed him (giving him colostrum if within 6 hours) or powdered milk or goats milk. You will find instructions on the bag of milk.
  • Any calf you have to get your hands on and mom is having trouble, you should place some iodine on the calves umbilical chord to prevent infection and tetanus.
  • The only other complication is a twisted uterine...a lot of times cow and calf are lost..a Vet should be involved if available.
  • Oh! A calf born still born, we had a case this year where the calf had died within the cow (probably due to a deformation of the brain, twisted uterus, infection within womb,too large, not developed correctly) We had to pull the calf immediately because the cow had her back down hill (a cow cannot get up if her back is down hill,,, with in 20 - 30 minutes she will bloat and die from the gas build up. you must pull the calf quickly and pull her off that incline and sitting up) After we pulled a very large calf from her (born dead) she immediately prolapsed...luckily we had the Vet present (he is always quick to get here usually within 10 minutes - He's great!)
  • Pulling a calf isn't really a hard thing to do..the best scenario is to have the cow into the barn with her head in a chute. You can try pulling by hand if you feel the calf has just began to come...but its hard! There are a couple ways to pull, usually with chains that are placed above the calves hooves ( you might need to go in to place the chains around them just feel from the hoof back and tighten the chains and pull..there is a poll that the chains can be attached to and it cranks slowly with gradual continual pressure( or quickly if needed (but not recommended quickly) Once the calf is born, put iodine on his are to immediately clear his airways, possibly placing your fingers in his nose to clear, his mouth and we go on and clear his ears. We then take the calf into a stall, with the rest of the membrane on him, and let the cow go to him, make sure she sees where you place him, let her out of the chute and she will usually go right to him, if not you'll need to herd her in the stall. Watch quietly from afar to make sure she claims her baby by cleaning him (if you had to pull she may be really tired and wait a few until she cleans him) she usually does this right away. Then check back to make sure he is up and sucking within 6 hours.
  • When you go to watch a cow calve...she really should be left a lone to do it on your own, go away and come back, best to not let her see you, she will then want to get up and find a new place to calve. When you are watching a cow after pulling the calf...leave her alone, don't let her see you.
  • A cow is often very protective of her calf, especially when first born...she can be very dangerous. we have had them try to attack us when they are in the stall and all we did was walk into the barn to throw her some hay over. So its best to be prepared and have the hay and some water in the pen as soon as you can and just leave her alone. Usually after a few days you can let them out if you are sure she has taken to him and he has sucked and standing strong. She then should have calmed down..but be on guard!
  • The calf is sometimes too small to follow her out of the stall...she generally goes on out and leaves him if you've placed any food or hay..or not! You'll have to quickly get that calf out of the barn and into the lot where she this time she can still be very dangerous.
  • Once she is reunited with her herd, she calms down and will let you by in a vehicle like a 4-wheeler, tractor or truck. I would not advise walking into a field of cows with baby's present....but again it depends on your cows temperament.

One word of advice, and the BEST advice we can give you on building your herd...if you plan on building a herd, but them from a farmer that is selling part or all of his herd..he will be able to give you history on the cattle, if any disease has been present such as Johannes, or blue tongue, and the temperament of the cattle, he will be able to tell you which calves may have an attitude problem.

DO NOT buy a bunch of cows, or single cows, from a cattle sale. Remember this, they are being sold for a reason!!!!!!!!!!! They are either sick, rank attitude and dangerous,unable to calve, have prolapsed, never breed...etc etc etc.

As I said all of our cows are born and die of old age here on the farm...we know them, we DO NOT keep any cow with a bad attitude or difficult to deal with, we sell them right away. Cows are actually smart creatures, sensitive of change, and if they know you and you learn how to approach them, they will quietly do whats asked. We never holler at our cows or hit them with anything. quiet is the best way They are gentle animals, be respectful and gentle with them. Always keep one eye on them...they have a fight or flight reaction if they begin to get nervous or fearful, they are way bigger than you and can hurt you.

We suggest you know your cattle, learn body language and how they will do yourself and the cows good if you learn to think like a cow. Sit and observe at a'll learn a lot.

We also suggest that during calving season (try to have your herd in with the bull at the same time its easier to know when they are going to calve) you check your cattle in the morning and before dark - we have found 4 or 5 pm a good time, you'll then have enough daylight if you need to assist you cow.

Want to know more about dispositions, and how a cow thinks, let me know I'll try to answer your questions...leave me a comment!!!...with Norms help I'm sure..and if there is something I've missed I'll update this with the words of wisdom from Norm who has grown up working cattle, and has 38 years of experience and learned from his dad and grandfather, who learned from their dads and grandfather, etc......its good to have someone help you out or there for a quick phone call to ask a question is a dumb question! And don't panic...remain calm!! Animals KNOW when you are scared or are panicking! They will react to that with the same emotions!


  1. Well you got that one spot on Rae. I've got photos somewhere of one the cows we had here a while back the day she calved. River has a wee while to go yet before she does all of that. Three weeks to go at least but all the signs are there. Hopefully she'll calve easily if not I'll be getting the vet out for this one. Great post!

  2. I hope I didn't forget anything, several people were getting onto my blog by searching google for info on how to tell when a cow is going to i laid it ALL out there. Like Norm just can think of a thousand things and then there will be a thousand more you didnt expect of think about.
    This is Rivers first calf right? Keep an eye on the girl (like I know you will). Do you have a chute or does the vet have to bring one? I betcha you can pull a calf as good or better than anyone! I have helped do it, but I sure wouldnt want to go it alone! We had a heifer calve today and she got her back down a hill and as you know they cant get up like that and Norm had to rush out and pull the calf..his head was already swollen but thankfully alive! did you read my post before? I updated about kings abscess and put some video on of the boys! And a special preayer request.

  3. Thanks for stopping by. I love your profile photo...where did you get that tan? I agree with the young horses watching the older ones do does help, we've found that too. We have had no problems loading at all. That evening we just brought Slick in (he was hungry) and we were tired from the weekend at the clinic.....we usually do it all in one hitch until they jump on but thought we'd just let him see it. Hey I'll pray for your previous post.

  4. Wow Rae... I think I know more about birthing cows than I wanted to... but still found it interesting... a lot like helping a mother dog with her first to let them do it, if they can, and only help if absolutely needed... and watch out, cause momma may not want help.

  5. Great informative post. We hope to get cows sometime this summer. I like your new profile picture!

  6. Wow! I have a lot of respect for cattle farmers. So much to know and be aware of. I always learn so much over here.


  7. Hey Tango! The tan was from last summer...luckily I've got a strong bit of Italian in must see how dark Doug gets! I used to be like him when I was little...not so much anymore.
    LOL hi Elaine...I know that post was long and detailed and can be gross..LOL but so many were searching for that topic I just decided to post it! Yes! Best to stay back if at all possible and let nature take its course if you can or unless you really are needed!
    Hey there Country G! Cows can be fun....they are not what most think they are..pretty smart creatures! Deal with them calmy and quietly and you'll be good to go...I'll do a post on what to look for in picking out a good cow! And what to purchasing from a sale barn! DONT DO THAT!!!! Go to a farmer!
    Thanks Lisa, i too learn SOOOO much from my friends and its been so great to gather all this knowledge from everyone! Thanks for the compliment!

  8. This was very helpful thank you!

  9. Thanks Kory, I hope it gave you some good information.

  10. Okay- I have a beautiful milking shorthorn- first calf heifer. Bred July 7 last year and due to calf around April 13- but by golly her udder is so swollen as of April 2 that she can hardly amble around it. Her udder began developing a good six weeks ago.
    I am wondering when she will calve, and if it's possible that she will be as much as a week early.

  11. Hi Brigitte! Couple things here...First I'm so sorry I havent replied sooner! A cow is pregnant for 285 days. BUT she can go a few days before. A heifer, being her first calf can calve even sooner than that if there is problems, or even a day or two later even. Since this is her first calf watch her close about a week before (starting now) for any signs. The swelling of her bag is normal, it is doing what it should - come into milk - this is good. Since she is a milker it will get HUGE and she will waddle! LOL Her signs will be just as described above! It will take her longer than an older cow (possibly) to have her baby (sometimes). Some of our heifers have them in 15 min others take an hour or more. But the problems to look for are if the nose is out, bag is broken and nothing is happening - then call the vet immediately!!!!!! If their are hooves sticking out for a long time and nothing going on and you see her push and push for 30 min or more and no progress go on be safe and call the vet or a neighbor who has cattle maybe you may need to pull the calf. Milking breeds are much more "dainty" than beef cattle so I would watch her more closely than I would my beef cows even! I have a Jersey that should calve around June 1st - I CANT WAIT! My Jersey is my first dairy cow and I just LOVE her! Let me know how it goes!!! If you have any questions please let me know!

  12. This was very helpful! Right now I have a cow that is springing, I saw some yellow mucus yetserday, and her udder is bigger I do not know if it is full?? This is her 2nd time claving. The first time the calf was too big and it died during birth, even though we bred her to a small bull. Will she have trouble this time again??

  13. There's a herd of cows across the road, and I've noticed one with a limp. Last week, her head was really moving on the limp side. This week, she's not limping so badly, but she's moving slow and keeping herself apart from the herd. She didn't go up to the water trough, instead she was drinking the run off.

    Should I call the ranchers?

  14. Hi there, would a cow about to give birth any day now start stratching. Mine is scratching all over on a tree and has been for two days now. He uders are full, she has stages of pacing around etc. She seems like she is ready and our other cow calved 3 days ago, but she just wont stop scratching!

  15. Hi

    thanks for this info - I am still watching "expectantly"!

    Joan from New Zealand

  16. I have a question...Our cow passed mucus almost a week ago, is that normal? We thought she was going to calve then (Saturday) but she didn't. She's had several calves and never had a problem. I've never heard of this happening in a cow. Should I still be worried? She seems fine. Acting normal.

    1. can be three weeks. I am watching mine now - she has her bag sticking out when she lays down, but is in no rush to deliver. watch for her to bag up, her vulva get soft - eventually she'll start putting her tail out straight with a kink at the end - at that point, go get your camera, lol.....
      good luck with it - but again, can be three weeks

  17. This post was very informative! I just have one question, I have a heifer and she is about a month or so away from calving and she got weak and cant get up. I have her in a pin and I feed her grain and hay every day and give her 24/7 access to water like the vet said, but do you know if we try to pull a calf when she is not in labor will it hurt her or the baby? And if we can how early can you pull the calf and they both survive?

  18. What a great bunch of info - i was particularly impressed with your advice on letting the cow tell you how to handle it. I am very close to my cows but one was a loner and the other cows didn't like her and she got so aggressive with me i never went into the pasture without a stick. finally i decided she acted like she had aspergers - VERY sensitive to noise, movement, etc. so i started announcing to her what i would do, that i was there - i stood a long time before trying to touch her - i showed her my hands, moved slowly, talked softly - she started to let me touch her a litttle and would shake her head when she didn't like it or if she didn't like the spot. Now she trusts i will do nothing surprising or alarming and lets me pat her and comes right over to me and never is in any way aggressive. I was just overwhelming her. I remember Temple Grandin saying with autism stimulation HURTS - and i think what i saw was her being hurt. she's lovely now that i handle her how she needs to be handled. the nice thing is she has made a friend in the herd now and is never a loner anymore - the other cows tolerate her much better. But she has learned manners and fits in better now. I really feel my change in my approach saved her life - she was almost - actually WAS - dangerous - i could never have sold her to anyone with a clear conscience - she scared me. now she's a sweetheart. amazing what tuning into your animals (and i guess all creatures, including the people in your life) can do, huh?

  19. I have a question - our heifer was hunched over with her tail bent & we thought it was calf time. She laid down & had the mucus pass, but an hour later she got up and is acting normal. This is her 1st calf & I'm worried about her. Should we just keep watching her or call the vet?

  20. I quit reading somewhere around the part where she starts making a bag. You are missing a step and thats how I ended up her. The first positive clue is when the calf turns around. When you know what to look for you cant miss it. The cow will be normal on one side and stick out a foot or more on the other side. This is sign birth is on its way. I am certain there is a standard amount of time from turnaround to birth. I do not not know the time or margin of error. Thats what I searched for when I found this. My cow/calf turned yesterday. Today her bag went from nothing to noticeable....


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