Dealing with calf malpresentations (but with no pressure)

UFA’s recent Cattle College here gave producers a hands-on demonstration on dealing with calf malpresentations, but it wasn’t exactly on a cow.

Dr. Claire Ainsworth, a veterinarian with Mayerthorpe Veterinary Services, demonstrated using UFA’s educational plastic model, which contains a calf inside a cow. It was purchased by UFA and is now used by Olds College.

Ainsworth said when a cow is pacing around with her tail up and looking uncomfortable, she’s in stage one of calving, which can last anywhere up to 24 hours.

Once things progress, a producer will see a water bag and feet.

“You should see progress within a short period of time, usually within an hour,” she said.

When feet and a water bag appear, it’s generally only a few hours until the calf is born, but if there doesn’t seem to be any progress and the cow appears to be straining for longer than 40 minutes, producers need to check.

“One thing I’m going to harp on is cleanliness,” Ainsworth said. “When you go to check your cow, get your rubber gloves and your OB sleeves out, and make sure that you are cleaning her up really good because you are the first source of potential infection into her.”

Ainsworth wears elastic bands around her wrists during calving season to keep her sleeves up. She prefers small latex gloves over OB sleeves, because the gloves enable her to have more feeling inside the cow.

In a normal birth presentation with a forward-facing calf, the two front feet should have two bends in the same direction. The back feet have bends in different directions.

“Just because they’re coming hoof side up doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re back feet,” she said. “That’s one way that you can get screwed up right from the very start.”

The size of the feet can also indicate whether they are front or back feet.

If a puller is needed, two strong people should be able to get the shoulders of the calf into the pelvis.

“If you can’t do that, that’s an indication that you should be calling us (a vet),” she said.

Once the two feet and the head are engaged in the pelvis, the puller can be applied. With a forward-facing calf, there is no need to pull too fast.

“Make sure she’s nice and dilated and there are no bands and rings in there and you can crank it out,” said Ainsworth. “Tighten up your tension and when she starts to strain, you can crank it to where there’s more tension on it.”

A little arc can work, as long as the calf’s legs are out. Arcing down too soon can break the calf’s legs.

Once the head is out, the producer should clear away all membranes and mucus from the nostrils. The calf is still supplied with oxygen from the umbilical cord inside, so there is no rush. The trick is to go nice and slow, Ainsworth said.

When a calf is facing backwards, two strong people need to be able to get the hips into the pelvis.

“When you get the hips into the pelvis, you can see the hocks outside the vulva of the cow,” she said.

Producers should also be careful when poking around in a cow’s uterus, as it is easy to put a finger through a uterine wall.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for the Glacier FarmMedia publication, the Alberta Farmer Express, since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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