Calving time is an exciting time of year in the Peace Country. Calves bring new life, and the hope that spring is just around the corner. Most cows and heifers will give birth uneventfully, with a live calf up and nursing within hours of being born. However, when it comes to difficulties with calving, knowing when to call a veterinarian can make all the difference between having a live calf, or one that doesn’t make it.
Recognizing the early stages of labour is the first step in identifying whether the calving is going normally. Stage one labour is when dilation of the cervix occurs. During this stage, the cow may separate from the herd, or try to claim a freshly born calf as her own. Contractions of the uterus start. Her tail head rises and birth canal relaxes. Stage one of labour is approximately six hours in length.
Following stage one, stage two of labour is when the calf is born, which begins with the appearance of the water bag or fetal membranes (if the water bag has ruptured). The calf’s front feet should start to show, and the calf is usually born within two hours from the appearance of the water bag/fetal membranes.
Many different scenarios can occur that disrupt the normal birthing process. Intervention is required for various causes. These include: six hours of stage one labour without any sign of abdominal contraction, more than 1.5 hours since the start of stage two labour with no part of the calf showing, more than two hours since the start of stage two labour without the birth of a calf, or straining for 30 to 45 minutes after a foot has shown with no further progression.
Getting the cow/heifer in a headgate to perform a vaginal exam is required to determine why they are experiencing difficulties. If only a tail is palpable, or only one leg, or two legs and no head is palpable, intervention is required. Many of these situations can be corrected at home or by your veterinarian by manipulating the calf into the right position to be pulled. However, some of these situations can be complicated if the calf is large, or the cow/heifer is a small body size. In these situations, a caesarian section may need to be performed.
When in doubt, it is always best to err on the side of caution, as it will help save the life of a calf. Instead of waiting for that couple extra hours, don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian for advice this calving season. A watchful eye, many sleep-interrupted nights, and a good relationship with your veterinarian will result in the best calving season possible.
Dr. Corinna Jensen was born and raised in the Fort St. John Community and discovered her passion for veterinary medicine at an early age. In June 2015 she completed her dream of becoming a veterinarian and graduated from The Western College of Veterinary Medicine.