- 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 born....you 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 calf...do 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 late....you 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 way..you 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 naval...you 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 is...at 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 think...you will do yourself and the cows good if you learn to think like a cow. Sit and observe at a distance....you'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...no 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!