How to check a calving cow or heifer

It’s important to know how long, and in what circumstances, to leave a cow laboring, and when to help her or seek veterinary assistance.

2 Min Read

Editor’s note: In conversations with BEEF readers who have been in the cattle business for years, one thing stands out — a concern for people who are entering the business. To address that concern, BEEF will feature a series of articles over the next year written by veteran contributor Heather Smith Thomas that look at various aspects of ranch management. While these articles will focus on the basics, it may be that old-timers can pick up a tip or two as well. This is the fifth article in the series.

If the cow is taking too long in labor with no progress, restrain her and wash her rear end with warm water. She may defecate during your exam; have extra water for rinsing her and your arm again. Putting your hand in the birth canal will make her strain and pass manure. Coat your hand and arm, or OB sleeve, with obstetrical lubricant, and insert your hand gently. 

You may discover that the calf’s feet are right there, but large, and it’s taking too long to come through. Make sure the head is coming. The nose should be only few inches farther in, head resting above the legs. If the head isn’t there, or there’s nothing in the birth canal, reach farther. 

Read more: Basic care ensures calving success

The birth canal is a long tunnel through soft folds of tissue, with the cervix separating it from the uterus. If you can put your hand through the cervix, it’s dilated and the calf should have been starting through. Reach into the uterus to try to feel the calf and which way it’s lying. 

Related:Basic care ensures calving success

If the cervix is not fully dilated and you can only put one or two fingers through, the cow needs more time. If it’s partially open, you may be able to put your hand through and determine what’s happening with the calf, and why its feet aren’t starting through. 

If the birth canal ends abruptly at the pelvic brim — pulled into tight, spiral folds — the uterus may have turned over (torsion), putting a twist in the birth canal, and you may need veterinary assistance to correct this.  If all you feel is a spongy mass of placenta detaching and coming ahead of the calf, this is an emergency.

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