Vet: Finding trouble early in calving process lets producers help animals


For the Capital Press

Charles Estill, extension veterinarian with Oregon State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, stood in front of 70 cattle producers and gave them his central message.

"We have an opportunity to save calves, from bull selection to heifer development to proper nutrition during pregnancy, to calving facilities and techniques that will let you relive dystocia. It's not just profitability but also the humane treatment of the calving cow," Estill said.

Estill was in Baker City in mid-December for OSU Extension's new calving school. Baker City was the last of six stops, after sessions in Albany, Klamath Falls, Roseburg, Prineville and Burns. Turnout was good, said Baker County Livestock Extension Agent Cory Parsons.

"We're expecting a crowd, which tells me this is something that is needed," Parsons said.

Reinaldo Cooke, beef cattle specialist with OSU Extension, talked about preventing calving problems through nutritional management. Parsons gave a presentation on calving facilities. Estill focused on the calving process, from the physiology of birth and normal deliveries to dystocia -- difficult births that need assistance -- to postnatal care.

"Calving is initiated by the calf, through a cascade of events that occurs when the calf is physiologically mature enough for birth. If a cow is overdue the reason is probably because her calf hasn't told her it's ready to be born yet. In most cases it's just a matter of being patient," Estill said.

About 2 percent of calves are born dead, Estill said, and another 2 percent die within the first week of birth.

Finding trouble early in the calving process gives producers a chance to help animals. As a general rule, if the cow is not making progress within a half-hour of when the water bag breaks, she should be looked at. Progress can mean a leg a few inches out.

"With heifers the whole process is slower, they're up and down and drive you nuts. If they haven't made progress within an hour to an hour-and-a-half they ought to be examined," Estill said.

Intervention is called for if the cow is restless for four or five hours but does not go into labor, if the cow is straining but no part of the calf shows after two hours or if feet or nose show but the calf is not delivered after two hours.

"Basically anything abnormal. If there is anything not following the typical pattern, get that animal up for examination. It's better to interrupt the calving process for a short period of time than risk losing the calf and possibly the mother," Estill said. If examination reveals a calf in an abnormal position, Estill recommended calling a veterinarian. He described various techniques to reposition the calf in the uterus and birth canal and demonstrated pulling a calf with chains.

The revised Calving School Handbook, with information about reproductive anatomy and physiology, details of the calving process, dystocia, and how and when to assist with the delivery, is available online at

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