Handling Calving Difficulties


   Fallon/Carter County Extension brought in calving expert Dr. Robert Mortimer to present a “Handling Calving Difficulty” workshop in Baker Dec. 17. Dr. Mortimer previously was a DVM and associate professor with the Veterinary College at Colorado State University. he presented a well-received workshop that discussed normal versus abnormal calving, signs of calving, and how to manage a difficult birth. Mortimer has overseen the calving of thousands of heifers in the training of CSU students and veterinarians in obstetrics, and is widely recognized for his expertise in calving management.

   The workshop was filled with plenty of good practical information that ranchers could go home and use. The majority of participants felt the program could have long-term economic impact on their operation. The changes producers intend to make include – getting heifers to lay down on their right side when calving, slow down, educate their help, try different pulling methods (not pulling down), avoid hanging calves upside down after they are born to drain fluid, and make sure calves get colostrum as soon as possible after they are born.

   Dr. Mortimer discussed the reason for most calf losses in the beef cattle industry is still calving difficulty. He described four problems that can occur from calving difficulty. The more difficult the calving, the greater risk for infectious diseases; the harder it is for the calf to maintain its body temperature following calving; the decrease in absorption of protective antibodies and increased infertility losses in the dam.

   Dr. Mortimer also went into detail about the three stages of a normal calving process and gave some intervention guidelines. Stage one begins with contractions and ends when the cervix is fully dilated and the fetal parts enter the birth canal. In cattle, the normal duration of stage one is two to six hours sometimes longer in heifers. Dr. Mortimer suggested intervention if the cow has been in stage one for over eight hours.

    The second stage of labor begins when the cervix is fully dilated and the second water sac plus fetal parts enter the birth canal further. For the rancher, observation of the water sac is probably the most practical indication the cow is in stage two. Second stage labor lasts from one-half to fours in the cow, but Dr. Mortimer suggests assistance at not over two hours and even earlier if delivery is not progressing normally. Dr. Mortimer defines stage three of the calving process as expulsion of the placenta or fetal membrane which usually occurs eight to twelve hours after calf delivery.

   Dr. Mortimer shared many more details about the calving process and handling diffuclties. Many of these can be found in the 18 page handout presented for general distribution. A copy can be obtained by calling the Fallon/Carter County Extension Office at 406-778-7110.