Beef Cattle Calving Assistance Explained
There is a lot to be considered in any attempt to put a subject like "Calving Assistance Explained"
in words. Many of those considerations are included here for your information and education.
Some Calving Assistance Explanations:
- After observing a delay in delivery, a pelvic examination should be done to determine the extent of
cervical dilation. It should be dilated enough to allow easy passage of the fetus.
- Determine the position of the fetus (Figures 1 and 2). If it is in an abnormal position, experience and
judgement must be used to determine if a correction can be made or if professional help should be
- Examine the size of the calf relative to the birth canal. A large calf forced through a small pelvic
opening may result in death of the calf and injury (including paralysis) to the cow. If this examination is
made when the head and front feet are still in the birth canal, the opportunity for a successful caesarean
- If the examination indicates a dry fetus and birth canal, additional lubrication is needed. Use a
commercial obstetrical lubricant (methyl-cellulose product) or petrolatum (Vaseline®). Do not use soap as it is
irritating to the vaginal membranes, causes inflammation and swelling of the reproductive tract and can result
in delayed return to estrus and lower conception rates.
- Attach the obstetrical (pulling) chains to the front legs of the calf, placing the loop of each chain
around each leg. Placement of the chains should be around the pastern (below the dewclaw and above the hooves)
with the looped chain on top of the hooves. Careful attention to this placement when pulling on the chains will
generally result in the least amount of damage to the calf. If the chains are allowed to become slack and/or
excessive force is applied, the chain may damage the hooves. Placing the chains above the fetlocks (above the
dewclaws) with a half-hitch around the pastern can result in broken front leg(s).
Attach the obstetrical handles and pull gently, making sure the chains have not slipped. Although some
calves can be delivered by pulling both legs evenly, it's usually best to alternately pull on one leg and
then the other a few inches at a time (Figure 3). Once the legs are "walked out" in this manner, the
shoulders are allowed to pass through the pelvic opening one at a time. If the shoulders should happen to
"lock" at the opening, apply traction to the calf's head by attaching a chain around the poll and through
the mouth. This traction will reduce compaction of the head against the sacrum (top of the birth canal) and
reduce the dimensions of the shoulder and chest region.
Applying traction at delivery by "walking-out" the
- The chance of uterine or cervical lacerations and tears is greatest when the calf's head and shoulders come
through the birth canal. Such damage may lead to infections and future reproductive problems. Since pressure
dilates the birth canal, damage can usually be prevented if traction is applied gradually. Gradual application
of traction also helps prevent damage to the cow if assistance happens to be given too early, because very slow
traction will not interfere with normal dilation of the cervix.
- Once the head and shoulders are exposed, rotate the calf a quarter of a turn to aid in the hips entering
the pelvic canal. If this does not allow delivery, pull the calf downward at a 45-degree angle, or nearly
parallel with the rear legs of the cow.
- "Hip lock" can be a problem serious enough to cause loss of the calf. If it happens in a cow lying down,
push the fetus back a short distance and rotate the calf a quarter turn, then apply traction to the front legs
in a direction toward the cow's flank or side. This rotates the calf enough so one hip bone goes through the
pelvic opening ahead of the other. If you are unable to repel or rotate the calf, place the calf's legs between
the cow's hind legs and pull forward. If delivery is delayed, make sure the calf begins breathing normally as
the umbilical cord will be pinched closed.
- All posterior (rear feet first) presentations should be considered an emergency, because the umbilical cord
is pinched between the fetus and pelvis early in the delivery. This means blood circulation is slowed, and the
fetus may die or sustain brain damage unless delivery is rapid.
- Attach the obstetrical chains above the fetlock joint and be sure the birth canal is adequately lubricated,
since extraction is against the normal direction of hair growth. A posterior delivery is usually eased by
alternating traction on the rear legs and by rotating the fetus about a quarter of a turn to take advantage of
the greatest diameter of the cow's pelvis. If delivery proves extremely difficult, a caesarean section is
probably necessary and should not be delayed.
- Only an experienced herdsman or veterinarian should use mechanical calf pullers. If used incorrectly,
permanent damage can occur to both calf and cow.
- Correcting abnormal presentations other than a leg or head turned back usually requires professional help.
For instance, a fetus that is upside down may be in that position because the uterus or fetus is rotated.